A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal
Dear Friends in Mission,
Thank you once again for your strong support for the work Keiko and I have been called to do with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP). The IEPP held churchwide elections in early July, and the changes brought about by those elections are already being felt in a whole variety of ways.
The most notable change has been in communications between denominational leadership (the Executive Commission) and the pastors/churches. In the previous history of the IEPP, including the 20 months we worked with the IEPP leading up to the elections in July 2012, there was a serious lack of such communication, and that is why the publication of a monthly (electronic) newsletter by the Executive Commission is so important. The first issue is set to come out in early September and will include: (1) a summary of the issues and actions of the Executive Commission, written by General Secretary Dulce Cabete, (2) an inspirational letter from newly elected President Silvina Queiroz, and (3) a theological/pastoral article by me—all with excellent graphics by Pastor Sandra Reis. You might think that such a newsletter, promoting as it does transparency, mutual trust, cooperation, and group solidarity, is just the most obvious thing that every church body ought to have, and you’d be absolutely right. In any case, it’s definitely part of what the IEPP needs to build the church.
The second major change is that the Executive Commission is taking prompt and effective action to mend relations with its friends and supporters in other countries. The new Executive Commission discovered that previous administrations had, sadly, neglected these relations and that the IEPP was suffering as a result. For example, a delegation from the Executive Commission is scheduled to meet (in late August) with the leadership of the GAW, a German foundation that in the past gave generously to the IEPP but did not receive a proper accounting for its gifts and consequently stopped making them. Besides all the suitable apologies, our delegation is prepared to demonstrate that the finances of the IEPP are well on their way to being sanitized and that the IEPP is committed to resuming normal, responsible relations with the GAW as well as with its other foreign friends and partners.
The third major change involves church property. In the past, issues around church property were tacked on to already long agendas for meetings of the Executive Commission. As a result, such issues did not get properly investigated or discussed. At the same time, no one—not even the members of the Executive Commission—knew much about the financial arrangements surrounding church property or had the expertise necessary to deal with such matters. Therefore, at the first meeting of the new Executive Commission I called for the establishment of a church property committee composed of people who did have the appropriate expertise. A pleasing solution to this problem was found when we learned that one pastor in the IEPP had worked extensively in property management before becoming a pastor and that he was willing to be a subcommittee-of-one to keep watch on the IEPP’s property, which is fairly extensive for the size of the membership and is crucial to the IEPP’s financial health.
The fourth major change involves the IEPP’s legal affairs. For a long time David Valente served as Secretary General or President of the IEPP, and he also served as the IEPP’s lawyer, working on a monthly retainer basis. That arrangement has now come to an end, and the IEPP will hire independent attorneys as necessary. That is a significant cost-cutting measure, eliminating Valente’s monthly retainer, and has the additional effect of improving transparency as well. To assist in this transition, Valente will meet with our new attorneys and inform them and the Executive Commission of the status of the church’s various legal affairs.
As concerns the Presbyterian Church of Madeira, the new Executive Commission has begun what promises to be a lengthy process of reconciliation. We have expressed to the church there our desire to be reconciled with them and have promised to meet with them just as soon as circumstances permit.
My particular responsibilities on the Executive Commission right now are to work with pastors in revising the Pastoral Code of Ethics and in building consensus for a plan to improve the benefits for retired IEPP clergy. Beyond that, Keiko and I will be hosting a Bible scholar from Brazil during the first two weeks of October, and we are planning educational events to make the best use of this scholar while she’s here.
Keiko and I are enjoying our work in the two churches we serve near Figueira da Foz. Both congregations are eager to learn new music, and so we have been busy learning some hauntingly beautiful new hymns from Brazil, some hymns freshly composed by Sifredo Teixeira, the Methodist Bishop in Portugal, and some very recent American hymns translated into Portuguese. The results have been lively and satisfying for all concerned. In this, as in everything, the Portuguese Methodists have been very helpful to us.
Yours in Christ’s service,
P.S. Should you wish to make a financial contribution to our support, please put our number, E200450, in the memo portion of your check and send it to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P. O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700. Or contribute online using the link below.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 270