The origin of the Methodist Church in Portugal arose from the witness of two English laymen, Thomas Chegwin in 1854 and James Cassels ten years later, who were responsible for initiating small groups for prayer and Bible study following the pattern established by John Wesley and his class system.
In 1868 Portugal’s first Methodist Church was built in Vila Nova de Gaia where the first baptisms and services of Holy Communion were celebrated. The growth of Methodism under the leadership of Cassels was clearly evident, and persistent appeals were made to the Methodist Missionary Society in London for a missionary to assist his work. The request was eventually granted and a young minister, Robert Hawkey Moreton, was sent in 1871.
Moreton was a prudent man who never received anyone into membership without a prolonged inquiry. Within a few years the Methodist Church was building the Mirante Methodist Church, its first place of worship in Porto, and launching its great educational crusade against a high rate of illiteracy by opening primary schools. Meanwhile the future spiritual leaders of the church were emerging, the most prominent of them being Rev. Dr. Alfredo Henriques da Silva who succeeded Moreton, who expanded the work of the church during the more favourable years of the first Republic.
Between 1920 and 1940 the Portuguese Evangelical Methodist Church experienced its most fruitful period of expansion, recruiting members from all social classes, increasing the number of its schools and confirming itself as one of the most dynamic and prestigious evangelical churches in the country.
During this era the Church produced various publications of a spiritual and intellectual quality; most outstanding was the monthly “Portugal Evangélico”, the oldest Portuguese evangelical publication.
The isolation created by the World War II, a lengthy dictatorship, the lack of continuity of leadership when Rev. Alfredo da Silva began to age and the shortage of preachers gave rise to a crisis in leadership, which the Synod sought to resolve by once more appealing for ministerial support. This resulted in the appointment of the Rev. S. G. Wood and in 1954 the Rev. Albert Aspey, who for 29 years assumed the leadership of the church. During the time new areas of work thrived, the number of ministers increased, the church became involved in the ecumenical movement and, although forced to close down its primary schools, redirected its social program to concentrate on other types of community service including projects in support of children and the aged.
In 1984 the church returned to leadership by a national when the Rev. Ireneu da Silva Cunha was elected as chairman. The following year the Synod, meeting in Aveiro, took the decision to proceed towards autonomy. With the approach of the 125th anniversary of Moreton’s arrival in Porto and following consultation with the Methodist Missionary Society, the 1994 Synod resolved to draw up the required statutes and regulations, and approached the Conference of the Methodist Church in Great Britain with a view to assuming full autonomy. This was granted in June 1996 by the Conference in Blackpool, and officially transferred October 26, 1996, in Porto. The Portuguese Methodist Church is now fully autonomous, a member of the Methodist European Council and of the World Methodist Council.
The work is centred in Porto and covers mainly the northern half of the country, in 14 local churches. The membership is around 1,000 in a church community of 2,000. There are eight Portuguese full-time ministers, one of them the first Portuguese woman pastor; one having a secular job and one retired. There are sixteen deacons and deaconesses to preach, two deaconesses to serve in areas of need in the life of the Church and two still called lay preachers. The women and the youth have their own organized departments.
Plans are underway for the building of a large community centre in Porto and for developing work in Lisbon, where there is a good number of Angolan Methodists who did integrate the Portuguese Church.
The church is committed to social action with solidarity centres to support aged people and children, one in Aveiro area, another one in the mountain village of Valdozende and another one in Braga city. A new solidarity project is being developed in Porto to support children and families in need. There is increased ecumenical cooperation with the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches through the Portuguese Council of Churches, which shares in several areas of ecumenical life.
The main aim of the Church is to share Jesus in words and actions blessed by God and guided through the Holy Spirit.
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