Preaching the gospel in a secularized society

Nearly two centuries on, the Presbyterian Church of Portugal remains resilient and faithful

by Maria Eduarda Titosse and Sandra Reis | Mission Crossroads

The Revs. Maria Eduarda Titosse, Cacilene Nobre and Sandra Reis lead worship during a women’s meeting worship service. (Photo by João Pereira)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP), the oldest Protestant church in the country, traces its history to 1838, when a physician and missionary from Scotland opened a small hospital and a school and began to preach the gospel on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Soon, persecution began in this predominantly Catholic country, and most members of the IEPP had to flee.

Today the IEPP announces the good news of the gospel in a highly secularized society. The church’s social programs transform people’s lives. The IEPP’s voice brings hope in a material and wall-building world.

Through the church, the hungry are fed and given dignity and a chance in life. Eyes of the marginalized are opened to new horizons and new opportunities. This can happen for children and youth at summer camp or a woman filled with anxiety at a women’s meeting. It’s healing to receive a phone call, a hug, a meal or a small gift. People know they are being heard, seen, recognized and treated as precious human beings. Care goes beyond charity through lives lived in community, sharing bread and broken lives, and together being transformed by the gospel.

Young volunteers serve as kitchen staff during camp. (Photo by Maria Eduarda Titosse)

The IEPP is grateful for the three-way mission partnership, now in its third year, that was established with the PC(USA) and the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU). Building this partnership has resulted in the sending of the Rev. Cacilene Nobre as a mission worker from Brazil to Portugal, through the support of all three churches. Nobre has been able to provide training for women and pastoral accompaniment for migrants and refugees.

Years of recession and financial crisis resulted in the migration of many Portugese parents to other countries to find work. In many cases, these parents left their children behind to be cared for by grandparents or other family members. When the financial crisis began in 2010, the IEPP still had young people in the church. As of now, the majority have migrated to Northern European countries, Africa, Asia and Australia to find jobs. This has had a crippling impact on the ability of the church to develop a new generation of young professional leadership.

Women share their testimony (Photo by Maria Eduarda Titosse)

The economic gap between poor and rich in Portugal is one of the highest in Europe, with nearly half a million children living in poverty. One of the IEPP’s focus areas is helping children, families and older adults who are living in poverty and struggling to function. Despite being a small church, the IEPP has an active network of camps, conference centers and social service agencies that collaborate with local government authorities to provide these services to the vulnerable — especially children, women and people who are elderly.

The economic gap between poor and rich in Portugal is one of the highest in Europe, with nearly half a million children living in poverty. One of the IEPP’s focus areas is helping children, families and older adults who are living in poverty and struggling to function. Despite being a small church, the IEPP has an active network of camps, conference centers and social service agencies that collaborate with local government authorities to provide these services to the vulnerable — especially children, women and people who are elderly.

Women from the central region of Portugal gathered for a retreat on the theme “Women of Fortitude.” (Photo by João Pereira)

The organization helps pay for nursery school for poor families. It offers music lessons and tutoring for children who are struggling with the national school curriculum. It’s started an empowerment program for women, because increasing numbers of them are the head of their family’s household. In rural areas, impoverished women and girls often have attained only low levels of education. They often experience discrimination, domestic violence and oppression. When IEPP needs funds for a project, it goes to the local markets and sells cakes, sweet wine, jam, books, arts and crafts. It finds partnerships and holds raffles. It organizes rallies and meals — all because IEPP knows that work done in the Lord is not in vain. A delegation, including the Rev. José Luis Casal, director of Presbyterian World Mission; the Rev. Valdir França, area coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean; and the Rev. Philip Woods, associate director for strategy, program and recruitment; recently had the opportunity to visit the IEPP to explore how World Mission might assist in developing a trilateral partnership, building on the links the IEPP already has with the IPU in Brazil.

“I praise the Lord for always finding good ways for us to be a universal church in mission,” França said. “These past few days I’ve seen the hard work and ministry of the IEPP. I am looking forward to seeing these multilateral relationships play out.”

The Rev. Maria Eduarda Titosse, 52, worked as a teacher before accepting a call to the role of pastor in 2006. She is vice president of the Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP) and president of the Centre Presbytery. She is also a member of the Bible Society of Portugal.

The Rev. Sandra Reis, 45, a pastor in the central area of Portugal since 2006, is general secretary of the IEPP and president of one of the country’s Institutions of Social Solidarity.

MAKE AN IMPACT
Further the work of World Mission among our partners in Europe:
pcusa.org/donate/E864450

This article is from the Summer 2019 issue of “Mission Crossroads” magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission and also available online at pcusa.org/MissionCrossroads.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?



Categories:
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Ministries: