A letter from Bob and Keiko Butterfield in Portugal
Friends and Supporters in Mission,
In our last letter Keiko and I told you about the recent surge in ecumenical spirit here in Portugal, and we emphasized that it’s ecumenism for the sake of real cooperative action, not just good relations. The level of cooperation in the form of mutual assistance and mutual correction between Methodists and Presbyterians is impressively high. People understand that we need each other and that together we are more than twice as strong as we would be working separately. Togetherness like this you just don’t see very often, and I find it very encouraging: a visible sign of the unity of the Church. If anything, though, things have gotten even more interesting lately because on Oct. 15 the IEPP (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal) appointed me to two areas of responsibility on the national level. I’m now co-responsible for the Lay Theological Training Program and solely responsible for the monthly pastoral meetings held in each of three regions. These two responsibilities fit together nicely as you’ll see.
It’s widely acknowledged by pastors and lay leaders alike that the IEPP has been trying to operate for some time now without doing any strategic planning, which means not only that there has been no plan but also that there has been no organized way to talk about the future of the church. As a result, there has been a lack of consensus on many issues, and people use whatever occasion they can to vent. All that is going to change, however, because I have suggested that we devote the next five or six months of pastoral meetings to strategic planning for the purpose of building consensus about future directions in the near, middle, and long term. This suggestion has been greeted with thunderous approval from every corner of the church. The process starts the first week of November. Pastors who work outside the church during the week (tentmakers) have pledged to share their views in essay form so that, even if a few pastors are unable to attend the meetings, everyone’s ideas will be included in the planning process. By the way, this planning will be done jointly by Presbyterians and Methodists, along with a few colleagues from the Church of Scotland and the German Church of Lisbon. Everyone who has heard about this effort to do strategic planning—and by now every Presbyterian and Methodist pastor in Portugal has heard about it—says that the whole idea is energizing and exciting, and they can’t wait to get at it. Neither can we.
I said that the Lay Theological Training Program assignment fits in nicely, and really it does because more and more pastors here are beginning to realize that if the pastor of a congregation over-functions, as most pastors here do, the congregation will under-function, and that the best solution to this age-old problem (of wearing out the pastor) is to train and encourage lay people to find useful ministries in the church. A congregation that does a lot of training is a strong congregation, and the Lay Theological Training Program is exactly what most congregations here need. In our long-range planning we will be aiming for that happy future day when lay people will be doing so much, so well, in the church that the pastor can concentrate on things like preaching and leading activities in the larger community and not have to worry about the smooth functioning of ministries in his/her congregation.
Keiko and I witnessed a further sign of vitality in the IEPP last Saturday at the annual national planning meeting for the World Day of Prayer (WDP). Representatives came to the Lisbon Presbyterian Church from all over Portugal and from many different churches and denominations, including a strong contingent from a local Catholic parish. The board of the WDP in Portugal happens to be composed entirely of Presbyterian women, and the effort they put into planning for the WDP Keiko and I found to be quite amazing. The IEPP has some very capable laywomen.
On the local level, our three congregations have begun the practice of praying every Sunday for someone who has distinguished himself/herself through service to the wider community. Two weeks ago we prayed for a local doctor, who is really excellent, and thanked God for the presence of such a fine physician in our community. We then sent the doctor a letter honoring and thanking him. I happened to have an appointment with him the following week and found our letter prominently displayed on his bulletin board in the waiting room. Among other things, that was our way of letting the wider world know that the IEPP is here. A similar suggestion has been made about our activities at Christmas. The women are going to bake cookies and make bookmarks and other handicrafts to put in bags that we’ll hang on the doorknobs of people in town. In a place like this where the general population is very old-fashioned Catholic and doesn’t really know what it means to be Protestant, Presbyterians have to do a little more to show people we’re Christians too, and I’m happy to say that we’re doing it.
May God bless you all throughout Advent and fill you with expectation of something really BIG at Christmas.
With many thanks for your prayers and support,
Bob and Keiko Butterfield
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 194
The 2012 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 270