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A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal

April 2012

Dear Friends in Mission,

Maria Eduarda Titosse, pastor of the Pres. Ch. of Bebedouro as she conducts a massed choir on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of this church, the largest in the IEPP

At a time when Americans are struggling to recover from a deep recession and when American churches have all had to (repeatedly) tighten their belt, Keiko and I want to thank God that you are still able to think globally and maintain your commitment to mission.  The relationships that you have with other Christians around the world are the visible signs of the great brotherhood  that Christ established by becoming one of us, calling us his brothers and sisters, and naming us co-heirs with him of the Kingdom of God.   Working with a church body like the IEPP (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal), which gets by on a shoestring and survives only by the grace of God, Keiko and I have come to a heightened awareness and appreciation of the ties that bind us all together in Christ.

Pastor Maria Eduarda Titosee and her husband José leading the singing at a meeting of the Portuguese Council of Protestant Churches.

Several times we have mentioned the strategic planning that the IEPP has done and its intentions to carry out a much-needed renewal of the church.  Currently the IEPP is in the stage of forming task forces to carry out the various pieces of the renewal.  Since lay people should be key players in all this, it is important for them to be involved from the beginning in each task force.  This requirement slows down the process—it would be a lot quicker to charge ahead with just clergy—but in the long run the participation of lay people will make or break this effort.  That’s why we are putting so much emphasis on educating and training lay people.  For historical reasons, congregations of the IEPP tend to be pastor-centric, which means that there’s a whole lot of lay training and education that needs to be done.  And there are no shortcuts.  It will, for example, take another three years for us to put our current group of about 50 future lay leaders through the sequence of training modules.  In the meantime, the Executive Commission of the IEPP must do monthly battle with a host of administrative and, especially, financial problems. 

Pastors Sandra Reis and José Salvador with Methodist Bishop Sifredi Teixeiraat a meeting of the Portuguese Council of Protestant Churches.

The basic reality of the IEPP is that, of its 31 congregations, only 2 have the means to support their own pastor.  That’s because many of these congregations are quite small and because most Portuguese Presbyterians come from the bottom tier of the social pyramid, which is very bottom-heavy: a few really rich people on top, a thin middle-class, and the vast majority on the bottom.  The family income of the bottom tier is very low.  For example, 60 percent of Portugal’s population live on a family income of 800 euros per month (roughly $1,100) or less.   Senior citizens have to live on half that or less.  At the same time taxes are high.  Small wonder, then, that IEPP congregations can’t support their pastor!  For that reason the IEPP historically relied on outside help to pay its bills, and as long as the IEPP kept receiving significant financial assistance from abroad, the management of its investments was not considered a top priority. But when the flow of outside help dried up about three years ago, the IEPP suddenly realized that it would have to rely on its investments, which, they discovered, had been neglected or mismanaged.  In the past church leaders were elected because they were inspiring, not because they knew how to manage investments.  As a result the Executive Commission of the IEPP now has to scramble to restore the financial sustainability of the church.  The task is daunting and tends to overwhelm all other issues. 

Pastors Sandra Reis and Maria Eduarda Titosse at dinner during the last GA of the IEPP. Maria Eduarda's husband José is on her left.

It’s important, though, not to let this financial situation distract us from doing a lot of positive things in other areas.  The task force working on the IEPP’s public image has a particularly important job, which is to offer some very convincing reasons why the increasingly post-Christian Portuguese population should embrace the Christian faith, why our Presbyterian understanding of the faith should be particularly appealing to them, and finally how to give them that message.  For this task force to do its work, it will probably need the advice and assistance of public relations professionals, and since we have no such people in the IEPP and can’t afford to pay them, we’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers or, lacking that, be extremely creative ourselves.

At the March meeting of the Executive Commission we discussed the situation in the Central Region, which is the area around Figueira da Foz.  There are six IEPP churches in this area with a combined membership of about 300.  Roughly a year ago the pastor of two of these churches resigned, and as a result the remaining two IEPP pastors in the area have had to pastor three churches each.  Because of the size of these churches and their busy schedule of activities, the situation has become unmanageable.  This is a good example of the scarcity of trained human resources in the IEPP.  In response and after prayerful deliberation, the Executive Commission voted to move Keiko and me to Figueira da Foz by June 1, with other arrangements to be made for the three very small churches in the area of Abrantes where we’ve been serving since October 2010.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter season and asking for your continued support, blessings, and prayers for us and for the IEPP,

Bob Butterfield

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 270

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