Brazilian, U.S. Episcopal Churches Seek Closer Ties

Episcopal News Service. May 29, 1992 [92126]

Mike Barwell, Director of Communication for the Diocese of Southern Ohio

When the Episcopal Church of Brazil was granted untimely autonomy from the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. in 1965, few could have foreseen the hardships -- or the opportunities and growth -- the Brazilian church would experience. Now, nearly 30 years later, the two churches are attempting to chart new directions together.

During a five-day meeting at the Community of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati, Ohio, in early May, five Brazilian church officials and four Episcopal Church representatives met to chart what is hoped will be a long-term relationship of mutual partnership.

Founded in 1890 by two missionaries from the Virginia Theological Seminary -- James Watson Morris and Lucien Lee Kinsolving -- the Episcopal Church of Brazil includes 75 parishes and 105 missions serving about 70,000 baptized Anglicans in the southern half of the largest South American nation, according to the Rev. Canon Jubal Pereira Neves, the church's provincial secretary

Uneasy journey for Brazil

The century-long journey has not been easy for the Brazilian church. Nurtured as a missionary diocese of the Episcopal Church since 1907, the Brazilians experienced "an enforced autonomy" in 1965, and received decreasing financial support from the United States until 1982, when they were able to claim a tenuous self-support.

"It was a shock for the Brazilians," Bishop Glauco Soares de Lima of South-Central Brazil said in an interview. "Since then we have felt in isolation from our mother church." Despite the loss of U.S. support, "the mission work continued," Soares de Lima said, "lacking personnel, supplies, and funds." The national seminary, closed in 1970, was able to reopen only in 1989.

Brazil's economic crisis, its plight as the largest third-world debtor, and rampant unemployment and inflation made complete financial independence unrealistic. "We learned how to do mission with a scarcity of resources," the bishop said.

No covenant agreement was made to formally separate the two churches -- a necessary step in becoming an independent province in the Anglican Communion -- or to provide specific opportunities for continued contact, said the Rev. Canon Ricardo Potter, the Episcopal Church's partnership officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. "Now we're trying to correct that process.

"The Brazilian church is the forgotten church," Potter said. "We really need to bring them to the forefront."

Centennial pledge to renew partnership

The growth of the Brazilian church impressed Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning when he joined in the church's centennial celebrations in 1990. "To celebrate a centennial today is more an act of faith than an assertion of triumph," Browning said. He praised the church for "embarking anew on a voyage of self-discovery, of discerning anew the gifts with which you have been graced."

Browning pledged to renew the partnership in 1990, and the group meeting in Cincinnati was appointed to form a covenant agreement and provide the initial framework for a new, healthier partnership. Although specific plans did not emerge -- both churches must review any proposals at a synodal or national level -- the nine participants agreed that the sessions had been invigorating and encouraging.

"The old relationship is past. We are now looking for a sister-to-sister relationship," Soares de Lima said. "We are truly -- perhaps for the first time -- discussing ourselves and each other and the reality of the two churches."