[Episcopal News Service] For 125 years the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has been rooted in mission. What began as a mission church of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church has expanded its own mission fields into remote corners in what is the largest country in South America.
In the coming days, the church will gather in Porto Alegre, the birthplace of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, to celebrate not only its 125th anniversary but also 50 years of autonomy and 30 years of women’s ordination.
“It is important to celebrate this milestone because it is imperative that the history and memories of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil are kept alive,” said Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, Brazil’s primate since 2013, and bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Brazil. “It is also an opportunity to celebrate and give thanksgivings for the dedication and devotion of many generations and to make visible the Anglican presence in Brazil.”
In 1890, two missionaries from Virginia Theological Seminary, Lucien Lee Kinsolving and James Watson Morris, felt called to start the church in Brazil and established a presence in the southern city of Porto Alegre, where today the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity is located. Three additional missionaries — William Cabell Brown, John Gaw Meem and Mary Packard — came to Brazil in 1891 and established new missions in Santa Rita do Rio dos Sinos, Rio Grande and Pelotas, explained da Silva.
In addition to the anniversary celebrations, the church will introduce a version of the Book of Common Prayer adapted to the Brazilian context. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will attend the June 5-7 celebration and is scheduled to give a lecture in commemoration of women’s ordination.
“The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has invited many friends and partners to celebrate this momentous and beautiful event,” said da Silva, adding that the church in Brazil hasn’t been alone in its mission, but has worked with religious partners. “We are ecumenical in both our souls and in our actions. It is important that the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil builds foundations and communities with a spirit for justice and justice for the next 125 years, just like it has been done for the last 125 years.”
In 1810, when Brazil was still a Portuguese colony, the Anglican Church established expatriate chaplaincies. Later, after independence and the official separation of church and state in 1889, it sent missionaries. Still, the bonds of affection remain strongest with The Episcopal Church, since the mission field established in 1890 by Kinsolving and Watson remained part of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church until the Brazilian church became an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion in 1965.
“These missionaries came to work with the Brazilians, unlike the British that came to work with their own,” said the Rev. Arthur Cavalcante, the church’s provincial secretary, during a late 2014 bilateral committee meeting in Sao Paulo. “Our relationship is obviously stronger with the Americans as they took the initiative to open a dialogue with the Brazilians.”
In 1907, the missionary efforts in Brazil resulted in the establishment of a missionary district of The Episcopal Church under the leadership of Kinsolving, who by then was a bishop. In the 1950s, the Brazilian church began talking about its autonomy, and in 1965 the missionary district became the autonomous Province of Brazil. The Episcopal Church continued its financial support of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil until 1975.
Following autonomy, though the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil maintained a strong connection to the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, it began to feel isolated. In 1990, at the time of the church’s centennial celebration, the primates of the two churches agreed to establish a bilateral committee to reconnect, re-establish friendships and encourage partnerships and companion relationships between the two churches.
“No church lives in isolation,” said the Rev. Glenda McQueen, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, adding that the church is Brazil presents an opportunity for partnerships. “The church in Brazil is responsible for the mission of the church in this part of the continent, but the church in Brazil also needs and invites her brothers and sisters in the church in other parts of the world to come and share, to come and learn. To come and experience God in this context, and for us in The Episcopal Church this is a wonderful opportunity for mission and ministry.”
Being a young province of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil’s energy and abundant life serve not only as an example for others, but as an opportunity to be re-energized, to learn and to grow, and to share that energy, said McQueen.
The Episcopal Church continues to send missionaries to Brazil: Church-appointed missionaries Monica Vega and Heidi Schmidt are serving the province, and Young Adult Service Corps missionary Rachel McDaniel is serving the Diocese of Southwestern Brazil. Two additional YASC missionaries are expected to head to Brazil later this year. The Diocese of Central Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Sao Paulo, and the Diocese of Brasilia and the Diocese of Indianapolis have existing companion relationships.
In addition to seeking partnerships with The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Anglican Church in Brazil recently hosted a three-day meeting of Portuguese-speaking churches, including some from Angola, Mozambique and Portugal, to promote the expression of the Portuguese church and to establish relations and partnerships in mission.
“One hundred and twenty-five years after the missionaries came, Brazil is still very much a land of mission,” said Cavalcante. “There still needs to be a lot of support: Brazil is enormous and we still need missionaries to work in areas where the church is underrepresented in places like Amazonia, which covers 3.5 million kilometers squared, places reachable only by boats and in the northeast.”
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country both geographically and by population, with more than 200 million people. Though Roman Catholicism is no longer the state-sponsored religion, it has more Roman Catholics, 123 million, than any other country in the world.
Unlike other Protestant and Evangelical churches, which in recent years have gained on the Roman Catholic Church’s dominance in South America, the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil preaches a social gospel aimed at engaging congregations and communities in conversations still considered taboo in certain circles.
“We understand that the gospel shouldn’t be proclaimed just as salvation of the soul, but as the whole being,” said Rio de Janeiro Bishop Filadelfo Oliveira Neto, during the bilateral committee meeting.
Despite having one of the fastest-growing economies over the last decade – the largest economy in South America and the seventh-largest in the world, with a growing middle class – Brazil has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Access to land and affordable housing; high levels of domestic violence, racism and homophobia; discrimination and exploitation aimed at the high number of migrants working in the informal economy are issues not necessarily talked about in polite company, but are problems that the church is addressing.
The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, as opposed to other Christian denominations, takes a more inclusive approach to preaching the Gospel. It offers a social gospel to Brazilian society, advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians, initiating conversations aimed at addressing the epidemic problem of violence against women, and standing with indigenous people and the landless rural workers movement.
“It’s still a minority church, and since it’s more ‘liberal’ it has developed its own identity. … We offer a theology different from the more traditional Roman Catholic theology and that can be uncomfortable for people,” said Cavalcante. “The Anglican Church is a place where you can have an alternative vision for how to be and what is church.”
— Lynette Wilson is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service.