Of Faith: Surely the presence of the Lord . . .
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Martha's Vineyard is home to diverse houses of worship. According to a schedule of services published weekly in The Times, more than 28 congregations meet regularly year-round. This is the seventh in a continuing series in which The Times profiles Island houses of worship.
On a Sunday evening recently, about 50 worshippers gathered at the two-year-old Mission Calvary Church (MCC), filling the meeting room at the Masonic Temple on the Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road for two and a half hours of high-energy, emotionally charged evangelism. Although MCC is an independent church, the service could be described as Pentecostal or charismatic, with elements of the Southern Baptists and the Assembly of God. Speakers spoke forcefully. There was an altar-call, a laying on of hands, and even a bit of speaking in tongues. It was a revival meeting probably much like the fiery preaching of the evangelical Methodist and Baptist movements that swept the Vineyard in the early 1800s, drawing hundreds of parishioners from the staid and stoic Congregationalist churches.
Pastor Joao Barbosa of Vineyard Haven describes his church as "full Gospel." It is certainly Jesus-centered, as speakers and singers repeatedly assured the congregation that Jesus was there in the room with them and that miracles were happening even at that moment. The worshippers, especially but not exclusively the women, were visibly moved, sometimes even to tears. Many responded with spontaneous cries and raised arms.
By Vineyard standards, MCC is a youthful congregation. Most are young adults or middle aged. Many brought young children, who were remarkably well-behaved, considering the length of the service. Only a few appeared older than 50, and there were none who might be described as elderly.
The service was conducted entirely in Brazilian Portuguese. Non-Portuguese-speaking visitors were provided with wireless headsets, and from the back of the room Pastor Joao Barbosa or another church member gave an English summary and some simultaneous translation. Pastor Barbosa told The Times that there are now 11 evangelical churches on Martha's Vineyard that offer services in Portuguese. Although most of his own congregation, who are active in Island businesses and community service, speak English, Pastor Barbosa explains that they are "more comfortable with Portuguese — they get the message better." It was easy to see that the depth of personal and emotional involvement requires more than the limited vocabulary of an English-language learner.
Vineyard Brazilians today may be echoing the Wampanoags of 1693. The English Congregationalists were then pressuring the Aquinnah church to replace their deceased Wampanoag pastor with Experience Mayhew, grandson of Thomas Mayhew Jr., but the Aquinnah church wanted another Wampanoag pastor. Even though many Wampanoags could understand, read, and write the English language, church was "the one place where the people gathered together to hear the people's own language as a sacred language and where Wampanoags held positions of respect." Not willing to have an Englishman, even a Mayhew, for their pastor, they joined a different sect and became Baptists.
The MCC is a high-tech church. A large flat-screen monitor to the left of the altar displayed the Bible texts (in Portuguese) as they were read. Four wireless microphones fed the sound system, and sometimes all were in use at once. The instrumental accompaniment for the singing was on CDs. A choir of six women (pastor Barbosa called them "the sisters") sang twice. They were dressed in modest black dresses with bright pink scarves. One of the sisters, Lauriete Miller, sang two solos and a duet with co-pastor Sonia Barbosa, who also read the scriptures, testified, and prayed at some length.
Another woman sang a solo. All who sang prefaced their songs with personal testimony. The monitor displayed the words to the first hymn, a Portuguese version of "The Old Rugged Cross." Pastor Barbosa's son, Jordan, managed the technology from a laptop computer (and played drums for the final musical number, sung by the guest preacher with her sister on keyboard).
The guest preacher, the featured attraction of the evening, swelled attendance to more than 50 on a snowy night, which, together with a football playoff game, might have been expected to keep people at home. Pastor Hursula Oliveira of the Portuguese Baptist Church in Medford spoke energetically for 45 minutes, taking as her texts Jesus's healing of a blind man, the parable of the talents, and her own experiences. At the end of her sermon, she called upon the congregation to commit themselves to Jesus or to come to the altar to be healed. About half came forward.
Mr. Barbosa, who is also a painting contractor, has been a pastor for 11 years affiliated with the Assemblies of God of Brazil and the U.S. Assemblies of God. Two years ago, Pastor Barbosa, then an assistant at a large Brazilian church, decided to "open a new door" and began the independent Mission Calvary Church. In the beginning, his church had four members: himself, his wife and co-pastor, and their two children. In winter, 30 to 45 now attend services each week at 10 am or 7 pm. In summer, when many in his congregation work long hours, attendance drops to 25 to 30. There are eight children enrolled in religious education classes.
MCC outreach programs include family care — providing needed food, prescription medicines, or a place to sleep, not only for church members but for others in need in the larger community. Pastor Barbosa said that he plans one day to offer language classes in English and Portuguese through his church. There may one day also be an English-language worship service.
Mr. Barbosa provides pastoral counseling for his flock, mostly on matters of religion and ethical behavior. He told The Times that MCC is not involved with immigration and naturalization. As far as he knows, he said, all his congregation are US citizens or have green cards, but he strongly believes that a person's nationality, language, or immigration status is a personal matter unless the person chooses to announce it. He faults newspapers and other media who single out minorities in reporting. "If a person misbehaves, the papers shouldn't say that he is black or white or Latino or Brazilian unless it has some relevance to what he has done," he said.
MCC has a fledgling web site, still under construction, www.missioncalvary.org. It opens with a quotation. Respondeu-lhes Jesus: Eu sou o caminho, e a verdade, e a vida; ninguem vem ao Pai, senao por mim. (John 14:6: "Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.")