Brazil: Building bridges in challenging times

Rev. Sílvia Genz is the first woman to take office as the pastor president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB). Photo: LWF/A. Weyermüller
Rev. Sílvia Genz is the first woman to take office as the pastor president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB). Photo: LWF/A. Weyermüller

Interview with Sílvia Genz, IECLB Pastor President

(LWI) – On 15 December 2018 Rev. Sílvia Genz took up office as pastor president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB). In an interview with Lutheran World Information she speaks about her leadership role, the challenges confronting her church and the current developments in the country.

In the 1980s you were among the first women to be ordained in your church. Now you are the first female church president. What does that mean to you?

Yes, I am the first woman pastor to be elected president of the IECLB. I feel that is a calling to deepen my ministry in the IECLB. In 1983 I started out as a pastor in a congregation. I am grateful to God to be able to work in the IECLB, in a church that ordains women and sends them to serve the local churches.

Since the elections last year Brazil is going through turbulent times. What impact is that having on the IECLB?

We have to note that the new government is also supported by many of our church members. That is leading to tension in the congregations between those who voted for him and those who oppose him. In some cases, it has got to the point of families no longer celebrating Christmas together or pastors having their contracts discontinued because of their political attitude.

That is not an easy situation for a church and it’s leadership…

We have to speak and act with great care so as not to polarize our members even more. With our annual theme from John 14:27 – Jesus’ words “My peace I give to you” – we want to create spaces in which people can exchange thoughts on how to build bridges towards one another. Division, strife and hate in families, in the congregation and in society must be overcome.

We want to create spaces in which people can exchange thoughts on how to build bridges towards one another. Division, strife and hate in families, in the congregation and in society must be overcome.
Rev. Sílvia Genz, Pastor President, Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazill

Amongst our pastors we have agreed that we want to proceed with our work as usual and not participate in every debate triggered on social media. They are often spreading rumors and arguments that should first be verified regarding their truth.

How do you assess developments in Brazilian civil society under the current government?

There are several issues that we are concerned about such as new legislation making it easier to buy weapons. We resolutely speak out against that as a church, because weapons don’t serve life – they only strengthen hate in society.

Generally we are seeing that human rights are accorded less and less respect. For example, the special status of the indigenous peoples in Brazil has been curtailed. These groups often resist the extensive deforestation in the Amazon. But the new government  wants to abolish environmental restrictions and release protected areas in Amazonia for business purposes. In addition, there is the threat of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

In January a dam burst at the iron ore mine in Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerais, releasing toxic sludge that  buried settlements, and several hundred people lost their lives. An IECLB congregation is also affected. How are you responding to this disaster?

“It stinks here,” is what our local pastor reported. The mud was contaminated with chemicals and poured over a large area, burying people, animals and houses. Many families from the region lost relatives. We are praying for them in particular.

An ecumenical funeral service was held on 9 February. We invited people from other parts of the country to write letters of condolence to the bereaved in order to accompany them in their grief. Nilton Giese, our pastor in Belo Horizonte, says that a memorial service will be held at Easter. The letter-writing campaign will be kept up until 8 April. Anyone who would like to take part can send a letter to:

 

 

A point of great concern is that there are 35 more such dams. We don’t know exactly how safe they are. As a church we advocate for keeping to the statutory regulations. That applies to dam safety and equally to compensation for the victims of such disasters.

What do the relations with partner churches and organizations at home and abroad mean to you – as well as the fact that you are part of a global Lutheran communion?

It is encouraging to see that others take such a great interest in developments in Brazil and in our church. We know that we are not alone but woven into a huge network. Dialogue with our partners takes us all further when it is at eye level and based on mutual respect. That way, good ideas can grow – both with us in Brazil and with our partners!

 

 

Communion building

 


Voices from the Communion

The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.