From Copacabana to Watford - a local preacher's story 

Elisa Gusmão
The Scroll Church - Watford
2019 photo

I was brought up at a high Presbyterian church by a mother born in the German Lutheran colony in Southern Brazil and a father descended from Catholic Brazilian nut farmers from the north.
Our church was in the touristic area of Copacabana, famous for its beach. At the age of 13 I started teaching at Sunday School, working with the minister’s wife. A few years later, I was made leader of the Youth Union Spiritual Department.
My greatest pleasure was preparing the opening devotions for our meetings, for which I made ample use of slides and music – sometimes even pre-recording comments on the biblical passage read. These were the latest technological resources available in the late 50’s.
The pulpit fascinated me, but I had no dreams of becoming a woman preacher, a totally ‘absurd’ idea in those days. Even Presbyterian elders and Methodist stewards were men. My mother was the first woman made an elder in Brazil decades later.
Girls became teachers, nurses, or secretaries. I made the option for the first of these professions but kept a tab on the young men studying at the Presbyterian Seminary in Campinas, exchanging letters with five of them. If I couldn’t be a minister, at least I’d be the wife of one of them!
In 1962 I married a Methodist minister, an intelligent man, but not one who believed in equal opportunities for women. He didn’t give me space to fulfil my willingness to serve. Nevertheless, whilst he worked on his master’s degree at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, I had the chance to attend a public speaking course for preachers and to join the multicultural Riverside Church.
Back in New York in the 80s, this time with my second husband, a Scotsman, God allowed us the blessing of worshipping and serving with the Riverside people for one year.
In 1987 we moved to the UK and made our home in Watford, transferring to St Thomas’ United Reform Church. And here – finally – I became a preacher.
My first sermon was preached at St Mary's Catholic Church in Watford in the 1990's, when our dear minister, Revd Ken Strachan, wasn't available for a Christian Unity Week service. Having received good feedback on my preaching, he then kept inviting me to replace him when there were gaps in the pulpit plan, finally proposing my name for TLS (Training for Learning and Serving) Course – the first step on the road to becoming an Assembly lay preacher.
P2000 - my mother's ordination arallel to my work in the UK, I also started preaching at a free church in Ipanema - where my mother was a pastor until retiring at the age of 95 - on my annual trips to Rio de Janeiro. The photo is of her ordination in 2000.
In Watford, about 5 years ago, a historical day for ecumenism came about when the St Thomas’ URC minister, Revd David Lawrence, and the North Methodist Church minister, Revd Geoffrey Farrar started the process which led to the formation of an LEP (Local Ecumenical Partnership).
Revd Farrar proposed that members of the congregation who so wished could belong to both denominations. This was how I was received as member of the Methodist Church, later becoming one of its lay preachers as well.
One of the great advantages of my decision is training: I enjoy taking part in workshops and conferences both in the URC and the Methodist Church. Recently, I attended the Westminster Lay Preachers’ Conference in Cambridge, where we spent a weekend studying Matthew and took part in the URC Theology of Worship Group quarterly meeting, where the topic was working towards the integration of services in churches visited by many preachers.
We also discussed the role of music – this powerful and fundamental element of worship – to which we sometimes don’t give the necessary attention, or resources.
I enjoy immensely these meetings and courses, and whatever offers me the chance of discussing, proposing and hearing practical ideas for worship. The only thing that stops me taking part in more of them is the fact I am my husband’s carer. He suffers with Parkinson’s Disease, so I must always find a sitter or carer to be with him when I am absent.
The call to go out and preach is very appealing to me. So much so that, hearing that ‘a preacher who cannot drive is useless’, I joined a driving school and am about to take my driving test. Of course, given all the dates mentioned above, you surely have already guessed I am a (very) senior citizen – although very young at heart!