A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal
Dear Friends in Mission,
Keiko and I want to thank you all for the generous support you’ve been giving our work in Portugal! It’s been nearly three months since we last wrote, and we apologize for that delay. The reason is that we’ve been waiting to see what changes the annual meeting of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP) would bring. Here are some of those changes.
As you may remember, this church body has been facing a financial crisis, and the churchwide elections held just two weeks ago indicate that the crisis was perceived by member churches and their delegates as a problem going well beyond financial management and involving a need for fresh leadership. David Valente, who for the last 15 years had led the IEPP, was voted out of office. In other results, the treasurer of the IEPP will be a young, highly trained, and very energetic public accountant, Vítor Martins. The new president of the Executive Commission is Silvina Queirós, a woman with lots of organizational and negotiating skills and with a history of commitment to social justice. The other members of the new Executive Commission, Dulce Cabete and Sandra Reis, are reformers carried over from the previous Executive Commission. The role that I tried to play over the last few months was to respond to the IEPP’s many questions about how a synod form of church governance is supposed to work. But in spite of my attempts to stay largely on the sidelines, the reformers drafted me, and the delegates elected me, to the Executive Commission. The job facing the new Executive Commission is quite challenging, and I’m happy to help any way I can. Following are some of the most pressing tasks.
Five months ago when the then treasurer of the IEPP, José Semedo, resigned in frustration after just a short time in office, the financial situation was not just bleak but so confused that no one knew where to begin or how to get a handle on it. The treasurer previous to Semedo had served for many years but in his last 3-5 years was slowly dying and suffered from dementia as well—a situation the Executive Commission failed to supervise—and the result was that when he finally died, the church’s finances were in a desperate state of neglect. Upon Semedo’s resignation this spring, Dulce Cabete, secretary general of the Executive Commission, and Nini Titosse, another member of the Commission, immediately began to sort things out, resolve the most glaring issues, and cut expenses in every way possible. Their work has been very effective, and already we can at least see where we are and what else needs to be done. The most important remaining areas for cleanup involve church property and the now infamous case of the IEPP church on the island of Madeira.
Very soon the Executive Commission is expected to appoint a subcommittee charged with reviewing the status of all church investments and making sure they’re producing maximum return. This is a vital task especially since the IEPP can’t support its operations with contributions from members and depends on its investments. The second matter, the church in Madeira, is a more complicated story. That church was the first Presbyterian church in Portugal and was founded by the great Scottish evangelist and medical doctor Robert Kalley in the 1840s. Not surprisingly, that church has enormous symbolic value for the IEPP. What happened is that its previous pastor, a Brazilian, never felt closely tied to the IEPP and tried to take his congregation out of the IEPP. In response to which the IEPP sent a Portuguese pastor to replace him, but by then the congregation had already been convinced to break away, and the new pastor, Jorge Gameiro, couldn’t get them to change their mind. After years of fruitless negotiating, the IEPP took the case to court, lost the case, and was slapped with a penalty of some 70,000 euros, which for the IEPP is a lot of money. Needless to say, many people in the IEPP deeply regret the decision to take that case to court. Meanwhile the new Executive Commission is committed to doing everything possible to salvage our relationship with the church in Madeira.
As for Keiko and me, in mid-May we began serving churches in Alhadas and Granja do Ulmeiro, two small towns near Figueira da Foz, and we moved from Abrantes to Figueira da Foz the end of May. So these last two months we’ve been working very hard but enjoying it tremendously. Our new congregations have a wide variety of members, including children and younger parents. What a blessing to see some younger faces in the church! Both congregations are eager to study the Bible and both have a lot of life in them. There’s a philharmonic orchestra in Alhadas, and they practice in our space and play during our worship when their schedule permits.
Two weeks ago we celebrated a baptism in Granja do Ulmeiro. Samuel Rodrigues Gandarez, 8 months, son of Pedro and Mona Gandarez, is now also a son of God and coheir with Christ of the kingdom of God.
On the national level, I’ll continue leading pastoral conferences and an annual retreat for pastors. Locally we have great plans for youth ministry.
Yours in Christ’s service,