A New Church in Brazil

Diocesan Press Service. November 2, 1964 [XXVI-24]

Margaret R. Gumm

From one small mission begun by two young American priests to an independent national church, this is the story of the Episcopal Church in Brazil.

With the approval of the 1964 General Convention, the Igreja Episcopal Brasileira has become the first missionary area of the Episcopal Church in the United States to achieve independence through normal development. Both the churches of Japan and China were forced to assume independence because of war.

Anglican work in Brazil began in 1889 with the arrival of two graduates of the Virginia Theological Seminary at Alexandria. They were soon joined by four Brazilians, three of whom were later ordained to the priesthood. In 1891 three more Americans from Virginia joined the fight. At the end of the first decade of work, the Rev. Lucien Lee Kinsolving, one of the two original American missionaries, was elected Bishop of the District by the House of Bishops and Anglican work in Brazil, with the exception of a few Church of England chaplaincies, came formally under the direction of the Episcopal Church in the United States. In 1903 a seminary was established to train nationals and in 1912 classes opened at a boarding school for boys.

The process of growth continued and in 1923 a new missionary work, among Japanese immigrants to Brazil, was begun by the Rev. J. Yasoji Ito, a Japanese who had followed his people to minister to them. By the 1920's work had also expanded over a widespread geographical area and Bishop Kinsolving obtained the consent of General Convention for the election of a Suffragan Bishop.

At the end of that decade the work had developed a pattern which it still maintains. In the state of Rio Grande do Sul there were parishes in the principal cities and missions and preaching stations throughout the state. In Rio de Janeiro there were a number of missions and stations and in the state of Sao Paulo there were over 20 missions and stations, more than half of which were Japanese.

The hope of many Brazilian Episcopalians was realized in 1939 when Athalicio Theodoro Pithan, a Brazilian, was elected Suffragan Bishop. By the middle of the next decade the need for a division of this district was evident and in 1946 it was cut in two. This process continued and in 1949 General Convention approved a Brazilian Church of three districts. The state of Rio Grande do Sul was cut into two parts; the eastern, which retained the old name "Southern Brazil", and the western, which became "Southwestern Brazil. The third district "Central Brazil" includes all the rest of the nation, although at the time there were no missions north of Rio de Janeiro.

In the 1950's the Brazilian Church took the name "Igreja Episcopal Brasileira" (Brazilian Episcopal Church) and, while still under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church in the United States, assumed much of the responsibility for its own affairs. Its form of government, consisting of a National Council, district Conventions and a triennial National Synod, are similar to the government of its parent church. Between meetings of their National Council work is carried on by the Departments of the Council under the direction of the President, or presiding bishop, who is elected every three years.

Brazil, itself, is divided into 22 states, 4 territories and one federal district. It has an area of 3,287,195 square miles (almost half the continent of South America) and a population of over 70,000,000. It is famed for its coffee, but also receives income from its mineral resources: gold, diamonds, coal, oil and iron ore. This means that heavy industry can and is increasing. The Country's population is diverse. There are native Indians, Europeans, the descendants of African slaves brought by the early Portuguese and Spanish settlers, and Japanese immigrants. This last wave of immigrants has created one of the largest Japanese colonies outside of Japan. Its national language is Portuguese.

The Igreja Episcopal Brasileira now has 37 parishes, 38 missions and 48 stations. It has 78 clergymen who minister to 11, 683 communicants and it has helped to meet the needs of its country with its many parish day schools, with its boys towns and girls residences, and with its homes for the elderly. At present there are 17 self-supporting parishes with more expected to achieve this status in the near future. Many of Brazil's parishes and organized missions support the Church's network of day schools and some have started their own missions or social institutions.

This church has grown in 74 years into an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. Its future is one of opportunity. It must meet the needs of its growing cities in the state of Rio Grande du Sol and Sao Paulo. Many of its rural missions have become nearly deserted as immigrant farmers leave the land for the promises of the more modern and industrialized towns and cities. The Igreja Episcopal Brasileira is already beginning to meet the challenges of increasing urbanization. In Brasilia, the new capitol, the church is already there, ready to serve those who are coming in.

Finally, the Church in Brazil must gradually work northward and westward until its work covers the whole of its vast country.

While autonomy will assuredly bring a new spirit of independence and self-reliance to the Igreja Episcopal Brasileira, it is also clear that this Church will need the active support of the American Church for some time to come.