Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in partnership with Boston University School of Theology, is offering a new program for pastoral training in Portuguese.
The initiative, promoted by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry, enhances the church’s Brazilian outreach.
The Rev. David Martinez, director of Specialized Programs of Theological Education at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, helped facilitate plans for the first Licensing School for Pastoral Ministry in Portuguese, which he sees as a great achievement for all involved.
“Higher education for our ministers is very important — no matter the language. We can do many things when we work together in the name of Jesus,” he said.
The Portuguese classes started in August at Boston University, with 16 Brazilian candidates representing three annual conferences: New England, Western North Carolina and Greater New Jersey.
The licensing school is for non-ordained clerics who have received episcopal appointment, are in the process of episcopal appointment or are in the process of appointment to preach, lead service and fulfill the functions of a pastor. Students receive their license for pastoral ministry after completing 80 hours of training (as presented in the 2012 Book of Discipline, ¶315).
The Rev. Juarez Gonçalves, pastor of Family United Methodist Church, a Brazilian ministry in Saugus, Massachusetts, is one of the creators of the project.
He said the United Methodist Church’s Brazilian ministry has existed for 20 years, but due to the growth of Portuguese-speaking churches in the United States, it became necessary that the lay leaders who are part of these communities get proper training.
“Faced with this reality, we began to wonder how it would be possible to provide education for future male and female pastors,” Gonçalves said.
In July 2015, he contacted the Rev. Tércio Junker, regional director of the Course of Study program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois — one of 13 United Methodist seminaries.
The licensing school for local pastors already was offered in Spanish, Junker said, so he saw it as a great opportunity to incorporate another language. He developed a proposal for the Portuguese licensing school and obtained approval from Garrett’s administration, with support from Higher Education and Ministry and the National Plan.
The School of Theology at Boston University agreed to host the classes. The Rev. Cristian de la Rosa, director of contextual education and community partnerships at the school, was present on course days and applauded the commitment and enthusiasm of the group.
“I was very interested in seeing the makeup of the class, in terms of men and women, and I’m glad that there are several women here. And I hope to see more women involved in the program,” she said.
Being part of this historic moment for the Brazilian community was a joy for the professors.
“Being able to teach in our own language brings great pleasure and motivation ... . To be in contact with our culture through this course, for me, was a great joy,” said Débora Junker, Garrett’s assistant dean of student life and director of the office of international students and the Hispanic Center. She presented classes in Christian education, spiritual formation, transformative leadership and pastoral care.
The Rev. Tércio Junker, who led training in liturgy, theology, Methodist heritage, mission, evangelism and preaching, talked about the joy of witnessing the candidates’ thirst for learning.
“The group is very engaged, well integrated, working earnestly. The students demonstrate a latent and deep commitment with the pastoral ministry and The Methodist Church,” he said.
The tools to lead
Of the 16 candidates, 13 are fruits of the Brazilian ministry at Family United Methodist. Gonçalves is grateful for the support received from the New England Conference, especially from former district superintendent and now Washington Area Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling.
He highlights candidate Thiago Vieira as a “reference of persistence.” Vieira, a member of Family United Methodist since 2001, heard his pastoral calling in 2003. Over the years, he persisted in seeking training even in the midst of many difficulties. Today, as a local pastor in Worcester, Massachusetts, he leads Jesus Life Center United Methodist Church with his wife, Selma.
For Alexandre da Silva of Newark, New Jersey, being able to participate in this training is an answer to his prayers. When he started the process to become a local pastor, there was no expectation of how he would complete the licensing school, as he hadn’t mastered English or Spanish. Today, he is part of the New Canaan United Methodist Church in Kearny, New Jersey, and by next August, he will take over as a local pastor of Davis Memorial United Methodist in Harrison, New Jersey.
Alessandra Novais and her husband, Nivan Pinto, have led Brazilian ministry at Family United Methodist Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, for about three years. She sees the course as essential to her ministry.
“Being in front of a church requires not only responsibility, zeal, passion for souls, but it also requires from us knowledge,” Novais said.
For her, the news of the licensing school in Portuguese was a confirmation from God that she should perfect the pastoral calling she has been exercising over the years.
The Rev. Francisco Cañas, executive director for the National Plan, said that one of the organization’s most recent assignments is to assist the Brazilian ministry by providing resources and opportunities for its development.
“This accomplishment, it’s just the first of many others that our Creator is providing to the Brazilian community under the guidance and leadership of our United Methodist Church,” he said.
Junker stresses the importance that all parties continue to support this initiative, from local churches to conferences and United Methodist agencies. The candidates have another five years of training ahead.
“With this open door, I’m sure there will be an even greater awakening in the Brazilian communities to ministerial calling,” Gonçalves said.
Moraes is a member of the Hispanic/Latino Communicators Team of the National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry and United Methodist Communications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.