But now the former Portuguese-as-a-second-language teacher is poised to be the first Portuguese native ordained to the
ministry in her small denomination. Castanheira is in the second year of a two-year internship, after which she’ll be eligible for ordination.
“There are more women than men in my seminary (after two years of seminary in Lisbon, Castanheira is now a student in Madrid),” she told the Presbyterian News Service in a Sept. 25 interview while here for International Peacemakers orientation [www.pcusa.org/peacemaking/intl/international.htm], a month-visitation program sponsored each year by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program [www.pcusa.org/peacemaking]. “But none of them have intended to be pastors … until me and my colleague.”
Two women pastors currently serve in the PCP — a German and an Angolan. “I will be the first Portuguese Presbyterian woman ordained in the PCP,” Castanheira said, “which is something I never imagined.”
She was baptized in the Baptist church in Portugal, but her family more often attended the Presbyterian church in her native Lisbon. “I saw two worlds of Christianity and knew by the time I was 15 that I wanted to do things related to God,” Castanheira said.
After college, she worked teaching Portuguese to English-speaking missionaries who were preparing for the mission field, mostly in Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. “Teaching people from all over the world, I learned to appreciate how different Christians are in different parts of the world,” Castanheira said. “And so I decided to change my life and study theology.”
In a country dominated by the Roman Catholic Church — the PCP has just 1,500 members in 16 congregations four “missions” in a country of 10 million — Protestant churches must work together, Castanheira said, noting that the Presbyterians and Methodists are currently in unification talks.
“The situation is the same in Portugal as in the U.S.,” she said. “Pentecostal churches are growing while the historical churches are shrinking, but mostly people are leaving churches and not going anywhere else,” Castanheira said. “We haven’t yet found good solutions.”
During her month as an International Peacemaker, Castanheira will visit the presbyteries of Middle Tennessee, National Capital, Twin Cities Area, Detroit, and Eastern Oklahoma. She’s delighted with the geographical diversity of that itinerary.
“I want to learn more about this idea of diversity,” she said. “That Christians can be so different and still be together in Christ. I want to take that back to Portugal particularly.”
Such understanding is critical to effective peacemaking, she added. “If we learn to accept difference, then peace is possible. It is with this understanding that I want to help shape the next generation of Portuguese Christians,” she said.
“And I want to share with my new American friends about Portugal.”