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A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal

May 2013

Dear Friends in Mission,

Let me begin by thanking you all for your support.  Keiko and I could not work in Portugal without the strong spiritual and material support we get from you as individuals, churches, presbyteries, synods, and World Mission offices of the PC(USA).

We are now back in the U.S.A. and have already begun to visit congregations and presbyteries.  Even now it’s clear that so many Presbyterians want us to share our story with them that we’re going to have to extend our stay from three to six months to accommodate the demand.  In any case, there are a few additional things I want you to know about the church body we work with, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP).

In previous letters I’ve been pleased to report on the considerable improvements that have been made in and by the IEPP since the election in July 2012 of a reform slate of candidates for the Executive Commission (EC), which is the five-member board that carries out the decisions of the General Assembly and manages the IEPP’s business month to month.  The male-dominated management team that had run the EC for many years was swept out of office and replaced by a reform slate of candidates composed of four women, plus me in a rather minor, advisory role.  Besides having to straighten out the IEPP’s thoroughly confused finances, the newly elected EC has really had to fight to persevere in its reform platform.  In this struggle the negotiating moxie, business acumen, and pastoral skill demonstrated especially by newly elected President Silvina Queiroz and newly elected Secretary-General Dulce Cabete have thus far been very impressive.  

In my years as a pastor and teacher I’ve been in more than my fair share of emotionally draining meetings in which the issues and people involved were highly sensitive and difficult, but the series of interviews the EC recently concluded with four IEPP pastors the EC is attempting to move to different ministries were more tense and difficult than any I had ever experienced.  Even though the IEPP constitution and labor law in Portugal allow for pastors to be moved, the practice of the EC in the past was to allow pastors to stay in the same place for as long as they wanted.  The new EC, by contrast, has had the courage to try to break this traditional pattern in order to meet the changing needs of the Church.  And since pastors and their families have all sorts of practical reasons and theological rationales for not wanting to move, the EC has met stiff resistance.  But the Church does not exist for the convenience of pastors, and someone (namely, the EC) has to take responsibility for putting pastors where they’re really needed—not just where they’re comfortable.  In church bodies where such personnel changes are common, this is not news, but in the IEPP it really is.  In these and other ways the new EC is attempting to exercise more effective and responsible stewardship of the IEPP’s very limited human and material resources.  On the one hand, it’s sad to look at the administrative history of the IEPP and see how badly it was run, but on the other hand it’s exhilarating to see what’s happening now under more competent administration.  By the way, my role in the administration of the IEPP is largely advisory.  I leave the difficult stuff to the Portuguese.

The IEPP can’t afford the luxury of professionally trained administrators.  Historically the IEPP’s pastors were forced to do double duty as church body administrators even though they’d had no particular preparation for that additional role.  Currently, however, by the grace of God, the IEPP’s Executive Commission is blessed with two administrators, President Silvina Queiroz and Secretary-General Dulce Cabete, who have a wealth of professional experience in administering organizations.  Silvina, besides being a public school teacher, is a political activist and the president of a large teachers’ union, and Dulce, besides being a professor of nursing at a major university, has an extensive background in organizational leadership both in and outside the Church.  Thanks to the extraordinary skill and hard work of these two women and of the other two women on the EC (Pastors Maria Eduarda Titosse and Sandra Reis), the IEPP has significantly strengthened its ability to do ministry.  This is, therefore, really a time for thanking God for raising up faithful witnesses and gifted adjudicatories.

Now that Keiko and I are planning to be in the U.S.A. for an additional three months, we want to encourage congregations, presbyteries, and synods to contact us and make plans for us to visit, especially in July, August, and September.  The best way for you to contact us is still by email: keikoandbob@yahoo.com.  Our cell phone numbers may also be helpful: Bob, 630-270-8254; Keiko, 630-405-9567.  If your message is complicated, however, email is better.

With renewed thanks for your help and support and with renewed hope for the health of the IEPP, Keiko and I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in the near future.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Bob

 

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 276
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