From 1890 to 1949 the Missionary District, led by the evangelical bishops Kinsolving and Thomas, grew very fast, sound in doctrine and with evangelistic zeal. Together with the Congregationalists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians and the Baptists, it was part of the “Historical Missionary Protestantism” that had a strong impact in Brazil from 1855 to 1910 and prior to the arrival of Pentecostalism. In 1950 the PECUSA appointed an Anglo-catholic bishop to Brazil, Louis Chester Melcher, who as a strong sacramentalist did not find it necessary to preach an evangelical Gospel to the baptized population he encountered (even though nominal and mixed with the occult). The result was a decline in church growth. From 1960 onwards the Episcopal Church of Brazil started moving towards liberalism and became, as an autonomous Province, the only Christian church in the country besides the Roman Catholic Church to lose members.
From 1990 to the present day, the liberalism of modernity has been replaced by the new post-modern liberalism following the trends of the US Province with which the Province of Brazil has strong relational bonds. The presence of North-American liberal missionaries, the scholarships for the Brazilian young priests to study in US liberal seminaries, the sending of liberal books for local seminaries and the active participation of leadership.
In the ecumenical movement lead by the World Council of Churches were some of the causes for this deep change of identity, beliefs and purposes. One result was that Brazilian Anglicanism decided to walk apart from the Evangelicals that represent virtually all other Protestant denominations in the country [both Historical and Pentecostal] thereby becoming part of a small and localized minority of liberal and liberation theology followers who are very marginal in the country’s religious scenery. Since then, and for the last 30 years, orthodox Anglicans have became more and more marginalized and discriminated in the church’s life.
The Diocese of Recife itself is very new, having been created in 1976, under Bishop Edmund Knox Sherril, along with a group of evangelical and charismatic clergy and lay people, and with the support of SAMS-UK [itself very integrated with the local evangelical protestantism]. The Diocese, encompassing one of the poorest regions in Brazil, has long been known for its work among the poor, providing care in slums and garbage dumps, in cities and on beaches. Bishop Sherril led the missionary Diocese for 11 years, but was eventually replaced by a southern Brazilian, designated by the General Synod. Bishop Erly Rodrigues Clovis, with liberal and liberation theology convictions, came with the mission of “correcting” Recife, and provided episcopal leadership for 12 tense years.
In October, 1997 Robinson Cavalcanti became the first “native” bishop – a lone evangelical figure in Province of Brazil’s House of Bishops. An immediate result was the attempt to oppose the confirmation of his election because he was seen to represent a “danger” for the future of the Province, breaking the almost unanimous and harmonic liberal voice of that institution. Under Bishop Cavalcanti, however, the Diocese grew from 10 to more than 50 congregations; 73 deacons and 62 priests were ordained; a seminary in Recife opened and grew to more than 70 seminarians. In keeping with its ministry within the society of Recife, the Diocese has also long supported and run day care centers, pre-schools and clinics; it works with street children and the homeless, in partnership with government and non-government organizations. Throughout his episcopate, Bishop Cavalcanti has advanced the Kingdom of God among the least and the lost, overcoming financial and social challenges with prayer and faith. The mission of the Diocese of Recife and its Bishop remained steadfast to corporate and individual worship, study and action.
However, because of the relationship that was built over time between the Diocese and St. Luke’s, Akron, Ohio, Bishop Cavalcanti, together with five retired bishops of ECUSA, felt compelled to participate in a confirmation service of 110 people there in March 2004. The members of the Ohio congregations did not want the bishop of Ohio, whom they considered revisionist, to confirm them. Because these bishops did not have the permission of the diocesan bishop of Ohio, they were seen as unwanted guests who crossed ecclesiastical borders without permission.
In reaction to Bishop Cavalcanti’s actions, the Most Rev. Orlando Santos de Oliveira, Primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, held a trial in which he ruled that by participating in the confirmation service in Ohio, Bishop Cavalcanti had violated the canons of both the church in Brazil and the church in the United States, thus rendering him incapable of functioning as the Bishop of Recife. Bishop Cavalcanti was deposed on June 10, 2005, under the accusation of “breaking his vows of ordination,” and was quickly replaced by a different bishop.
The Diocese of Recife, however, held a special convention and unanimously stood in solidarity, in support of Bishop Cavalcanti, and declared impaired relationship with the national church of Brazil. Thirty-two ordained clergy stood with their bishop and were ultimately deposed without trial, accusation or right of defense along with their bishop for “abandoning the communion of this Church.” What humanity meant for evil, God meant for good, however, and the Most Rev. Gregory Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone of America, extended protection to Bishop Cavalcanti and his clergy in their unprecedented “excommunication”. These clergy represent about 90% of the clergy in the Diocese of Recife and lead about 90% of the church.
The Diocese became a registered institution with the federal and state government of Brazil, and continues to consider itself in the interim status of non-provincial under the primatial authority of the Southern Cone. In essence, there became two Dioceses of Recife, one under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, and one under Bishop Cavalcanti receiving oversight from the Primate of the Southern Cone.
Despite this sad history, Bishop Cavalcanti disallowed such events to keep him or the Diocese from the call of God to bring healing and help to the people in his charge. He remained committed to a theology of integral mission of the church, summed up in this mission statement: “No congregation without a social project; no social project without a congregation.” This ethical and Christian philosophy speaks to the whole life, provoking change to the whole person, to the whole church, to the whole world by wholly accepting Jesus and his transforming power. The mission statement also speaks volumes about the need for the church to be involved in communities and in every aspect of one’s life.
Unfortunately, the Diocese of Recife was not alone in its stand for orthodoxy. Seven parishes and mission stations in the USA sought alternative episcopal oversight from Bishop Cavalcanti and the Diocese of Recife, which he granted them on condition that it be understood as “a temporary pastoral response to an emergency.” Bishop Cavalcanti began to shepherd churches in Florida, Oregon and Washington – in addition to his diocese in Brazil. St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Oak Harbor, WA [now, Grace By the Sea] was proud of its relationship with Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti and the Diocese of Recife, fully appreciative of the uniqueness of the situation in which we had all found ourselves: receiving oversight from a foreign bishop who, together with his own Diocese, was under extra-provincial oversight from the Primate of the Southern Cone.
With the formal establishment of the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA] in June, 2009, St. Stephen’s [Grace By the Sea] relationship with the Diocese of Recife became more distant: it became one of the founding parishes of the newly forming Diocese of Cascadia in the Pacific Northwest and was placed under the episcopal authority of The Rt. Rev. Richard Boyce. The Diocese of Cascadia was accepted into full diocesan status by ACNA in June, 2011 with St. Stephen’s [Grace By the Sea] continuing in mission partnership with the Diocese of Recife. We will not soon forget the kindness, faithfulness and courage of our Brazilian Bishop and his Diocese.
On February, 26, 2012 we received the tragic news that Bishop Cavalcanti and his wife, Miriam, had been murdered during what appeared to be an act of family violence. They were buried together on February 29, 2012 in the House of Peace Cemetery in Paulista in Northeastern Brazil following a highly emotional funeral service at Emmanuel Anglican Church in Orlinda. May his soul, and that of his wife, rest in the peace of God. Well done, good and faithful servants.