By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
Graham McGeoch is not what many might imagine a Church of Scotland minister to be.
For a start, he’s young, dynamic, witty and always smiling. He exudes energy and enthusiasm, whether it’s a simple and mundane matter of installing new toilet facilities in the church or getting involved in facilitating creative and artistic workshops for the disadvantaged and marginalised in Portuguese society.
And he’s not, by all accounts, a John Knox Calvinist type of Presbyterian, spewing forth fire and brimstone on Sunday services at the late Victorian St. Andrew’s Church he ministers in Lapa’s Rua da Arriaga in Lisbon.
Instead he’s reaching out to all manner of Christian and Evangelical faiths in the international community where his ‘flock’ is just as likely to include American, Brazilian and Portuguese churchgoers as Scots.
Married to a Brazilian, Telma, who he met while training in São Paulo, Graham McGeoch has been in the job for a little under a year and took over the ministry in Lisbon in December 2009.
He sees his mission as not only providing English-speaking reformed Christian worship and pastoral care to a multinational community, but also very much as building bridges not only within the wider community but also with other faiths and denominations.
He was the first Church of Scotland minister to get a letter of welcome from the Catholic Archbishop of Lisbon and Patriarchal Cardinal Dom José Policarpo, and he was recently in Russia where he met Kirill I, the Patriarch of Moscow.
Graham McGeoch has a clear mandate for the next five years, which he intends to pursue with youthful vigour as you’d expect from a man in his early thirties.
His first priority is to bring stability to the Church here and its congregation which number between 30 regular worshippers and a wider membership role as well as providing pastoral care and making the Church’s presence and profile felt in the city.
“I suppose it’s a ‘Charter for Compassion’, a way of seeing religion as a force for good and above all creating an inter-religious or ecumenical dialogue,” which meant the Church being represented at the 25th anniversary commemorations at the Lisbon Mosque earlier this year.
“It’s also about recovering the idea that we are an Evangelical Church in Portuguese society, which means building relationships and cooperating with the Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church, Anglican Church and other Christian churches in Portugal,” he says.
“Above all, we must remember that, as a Church, we should serve the poorest and most in need in society,” something he’s had wide experience in doing in the past when he worked among some of Glasgow’s poorest and most run-down communities such as the troubled Gorbals district.
Although the Church of St. Andrews has managed to increase its finances by 20 per cent, he admits the congregation is elderly which is why he is keen to continue developing links with international schools.
For example, the art department at St. Julian’s is designing a mural for the Church Hall while Portuguese students studying for their Baccalaureate have been helping the Church out with community service projects on Tuesday afternoons.
St. Andrew’s Church also likes to open its doors to visiting ministers from time to time. A case in point will be on Reformation Sunday on October 31 when a German Lutheran minister will conduct the service while Graham McGeoch is away in Scotland, not to mention the anticipated carol concert planned when Portuguese pupils from Queen Elizabeth School try their hand at singing some traditional British carols.
One appeal that has proved a roaring success and is something the minister would like to thank the generosity of expatriates in the Algarve, is the Stamp Appeal which was launched in January. “We received so many used stamps and they’ll be sent to Edinburgh and turned into cash to fund a girls’ school in Pakistan,” he said.
And what does he think about the Pope’s visit to Scotland and England in September?
“The Catholic Church in Scotland is growing and he definitely made a good impression and left both countries more popular than when he arrived. He’s a scholar, a theologian and a reflective man but I think he too recognises that Catholics and ecumenical churches need to cooperate and work together as Christians,” he said.
For those interested in finding out more about the Church of Scotland’s St Andrew’s Church in Lisbon, please visit