A historic moment in the life of Amazonia

By Very Reverend Paul Millward

“Nos proclammos que Marinez e bispana Igreja de Deus, em nome do Pai, do Filho e do Espirito Santo.”

Bishop Linda Nicholls and Bishop Marinez Rosa Bassotto.

With these words, the Most Reverend Francisco de Assis da Silva, Primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, proclaimed Marinez Rosa Bassotto a Bishop in the Church of God, a historic event in the life of our companion diocese of Amazonia.

Speaking moments after the service of consecration, held in Catedral de Santa Maria, Belem, on April 21, Archbishop da Silva stated: “We certainly live in a special moment of our Province with the election of our first female bishop. A fresh wind is blowing through our church and this represents new times and a new way of exercising this special ministry. The Diocese of the Amazon and the IEAB are taking a decisive step towards gender equality and for this we are very happy.”

Although it preceded the Church’s celebration of Pentecost by some three weeks, the power and presence of that “fresh wind”, God’s Holy Spirit was never more apparent than at the service of consecration held on the Saturday evening and the service of installation on the Sunday morning, installing Bishop Marinez as the second Bishop of the Diocese of Amazonia. Both liturgies were incredibly joy-filled and up-lifting, reflecting a thankfulness that found its expression in so many aspects parts of the worship: the music led by a praise team of singers and instrumentalists, the proclamation of the gospel, led by three young women who danced down the aisle before offering John’s gospel, to the passing of the peace, in which no one remained in his or her seat, truly a symbol of the importance of community among those who had gathered, many from neigbouring dioceses who spent hours on buses to arrive in Belem for the celebration of the new bishop.

Gospel dance: Cathedral de Santa Maria, Belem, on April 21.

As part of our ongoing relationship with our companion diocese, it was an honour and privilege to be present at this historic and incredibly sacred event. Bishop Linda was invited to be the preacher for the Saturday evening service of consecration, held in an outdoor pavilion adjacent to the Cathedral.  Those in attendance were pleasantly surprised when Bishop began her sermon in Portuguese, the native language of the Brazilian people.  And while the balance of her sermon was in English, translated by one of the local clergy, there was great appreciation from those who had gathered for Bishop Linda’s message, speaking on the role of a bishop, both in the Diocese and in the wider church.

From the moment of our arrival on the Friday afternoon, we were treated to the warmth and hospitality of our friends in Amazonia, including a half day tour with the Rev. Marcos Barros de Souza, one of the clergy in Belem who our Diocese had the privilege of welcoming in 2017.

Marcos took us on a half day tour of Belem, one of the largest cities in Brazil and acknowledged as one of the most impoverished and crime-ridden. We stopped at the church of St. Luke where Marcos is the rector, a church that has fallen victim to that crime, having been robbed of the praise team’s instruments a few months earlier.  The church community takes these moments in stride however, and don’t allow them to dampen their enthusiasm for proclaiming the gospel in a way that invites all to hear the Good News, bit by bit, the instruments are being replaced.  And while the walls and windows are plain and unadorned, it only takes a moment to know that this is sacred and holy space.

Baptismal font at St. Luke’s Church in Belem: an image of life out of death.

At the main entrance to the church, there is a beautiful baptismal font. It was actually a pile of stones on top of which rested a very large pottery container that we were told was a funeral urn. Marcos placed another pottery pitcher over the edge of it, connected to an old washing machine motor, so that water flowed up through the pitcher into the funeral urn and down again…an image of life out of death.  As a community whose reality is so different from ours, this font is a symbol of their hope in Jesus Christ, and there is much that we can learn and share about finding joy in our midst.

The Gospel passage from which Bishop Linda preached was taken from John 17, in which Jesus prays for the unity of the church, that all who believe would be sanctified in the truth. “I ask not only on behalf of these” Jesus prays, “But on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…”

Our brothers and sisters in our companion Diocese of Amazonia take these words to heart, embracing through their belief, the opportunity to share the Good News with those with whom they “live and move and have their being”…

Thanks be to God.

Very Reverend Paul Millward is the Dean of Huron.