In late April, Bishop Linda Nicholls travelled from the diocese of Huron to its companion diocese, Amazonia, a mission diocese in Brazil centred around the city of Belém. The purpose of the trip was to attend and speak at the consecration of Bishop Marinez Santos Bassotto, the first woman to be elected bishop in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil since the province amended its canons in 1984 to allow the ordination of women.
“I’ve…not for some time been at a service that was so joyful,” says Nicholls. “There was such joy and energy and excitement from everybody.”
The service took place April 21 at St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral in Belém, a port city in northern Brazil. An outdoor gymnasium behind the cathedral was used to accommodate the large number of guests.
Nicholls says her favourite moment was the gospel procession. Three women carried the gospel, “all dancing to the music as they came down the aisle,” says Nicholls. “There was such joy on their faces.”
Guests came from across Brazil to attend, as well as Nicholls herself and Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio of the Episcopal Church of Cuba.
“She and Marinez and I were certainly treated as royalty,” says Nicholls. “We forget in Canada that we’ve had women bishops for over 20 years,” she says, but in Brazil, Bassotto represents the country’s first woman bishop, 33 years after it permitted the ordination of women.
Nicholls preached at the consecration, speaking on the role of the bishop in both the diocese and the wider church. She says she also attempted to preach the first paragraph in Portuguese, adding with a laugh, “Google Translate was my friend.”
The diocese of Amazonia and the diocese of Huron have had a companion relationship since 2014. This was Nicholl’s first visit to Brazil since becoming bishop in 2016.
While in Brazil, Nicholls also travelled to the parish of São Lucas, located in a suburb of Belém.
One of the country’s largest cities, Belém is also one of its most dangerous. Nicholls noted that the church they visited “had evidence of where someone had broken into it and stolen all the musical equipment some time ago.”
But, she says, the church has 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,” says Nicholls. “Then the priest of the parish had another pottery jug situated over the edge of it, and then attached to an old washing machine motor so that water flowed up through this top jug into the funeral urn and down again…an image of life out of death.”
Nicholls will be returning to Brazil at the end of the month, accompanied by Andrea Mann, the Anglican Church of Canada’s director of global relations, to attend the Brazillian church’s provincial synod. She has been asked to speak on discussions about same-sex marriage—an issue that the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil is now addressing—as well as reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
The diocese of Huron has brought several visitors from its companion diocese, including the former Bishop Saulo Maurício de Barros. Nicholls says her diocese hopes to organize a visit to Canada for the new bishop in September, as well as a clergy retreat in Brazil to coincide with Círio de Nazaré, a massive annual religious festival in Belém.
A shared webinar between the two dioceses is also being planned. “We will have some clergy gather here in Huron at the same time as a group of clergy gather in Brazil, and have some conversation about ministry in the 21st century.”
Nicholls says that Anglicans in Brazil, who are a minority among larger Roman Catholic and Pentecostal populations, can teach Canadian Anglicans “what it is to be Anglican in a very non-British culture and place.” She also says that Canadians could learn from Brazil’s large and inclusive interfaith community.
Rather than becoming “insular,” Nicholls says, these global friendships mean “we remember that we are brothers and sisters in Christ in different parts of the world…
“I think one of the things that the world is experiencing is the kind of compartmentalization and isolation of people from one another,” she says; what breaks that down is “when we build community across differences,” whether differences of language, theology or culture.