Paulo Ueti: Building relationships, inspiring engagement

This fall, the college is hosting Dr. Paulo Ueti, a Biblical scholar who serves as the Adviser for Theological Education and Interpretation/Translation for the Anglican Communion. Paulo has been staying in Montreal since early October, working from Dio, and getting to know the community. He is passionate about building relationships between the many different provinces of the global Anglican Communion and inspiring engagement in theological education. Below is an interview with Paulo, in which he discusses his background and the work he does for the Anglican Communion. 

Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up? What were you doing before working for the Anglican Communion? 

I am Brazilian. I was born in the mega city of Sao Paulo, but I have now lived in 19 different places. Nowadays, I live in Brazil about three or four months of the year and the rest of the time I am in London where I work, or I am travelling for work. My mother is Japanese and my father is Italian. My full name is Paulo Cesar Ueti Barasioli but I don’t ever use it. It is very long, and I like Ueti, it means ‘pilgrim’, or ‘the person who walks on the earth’.  

I am a Biblical scholar by passion, training, and profession. I was a professor until 2012, then I applied for a job in the Anglican Communion office working for Anglican Alliance, a relief branch of the Communion. In 2017 I joined the theological education department.  

I feel very privileged because most of my life I worked as a theologian, and I am not ordained. It’s quite rare. I had my salary and my earnings working as a theologian, even when I was a professor, I was working with religion.  

What did your research focus on? 

I have a PhD in Biblical theology. My research was on the meaning of materiality in Christian theology and Christian discourse. I was studying the discourses of resurrection, so how materiality, corporality is crucial infrastructure to our theology. This also led me to the field of gender, the field of spirituality, and most recently conversations about development and theology.  

What do you do as a theologian for the Anglican Communion? 

It is my job to make sure that everything we do is theologically underpinned to avoid our work being like any other NGO. I also lead Bible studies and write and review resources like theological reflections. As a theologian, it is my job sometimes to teach in seminaries, colleges, and other programs of theology.  

It is not necessarily my job, but it is my calling to make sure that people are welcomed and that things are not only in English. When something is produced, I assess if it is worth translating. I can speak Portuguese, English and Spanish. I can read French and translate it, but I am working on my spoken French. I can read and speak German. I can understand Italian. And my plan once I am fluent in French is to learn Arabic. It’s quite useful to have these skills in the Communion. I can connect and put people at ease.  

A big part of the job of the theological education department is supporting institutions that do theological education. We do consultations, and visits. We want to inspire people to be more engaged in theological education. Seminaries like Dio are more and more rare in the Communion, so we try to support this kind of education and support those who don’t have access to it. It’s been part of my work to spend time in different seminaries to be a support.  

Is it challenging to work as a theological adviser for such a diverse Communion? How do you harmonize so many differing theological viewpoints? 

The Anglican Communion office is meant to serve, so my job is not to impose or tell people what to think. It’s actually to connect, make space, and harmonize different opinions and perspective as far as we can. We are trying to be disciples of Christ and to have this at the forefront of every conversation. Mostly we try to provide information about Anglican traditions, spirituality, and liturgy.  

How did you become a part of the Anglican Church? 

My family is not religious at all. I knew religion and church because I loved to read, and I grew up in a house full of intellectuals so the library in my house was huge. I was quite anti-social until I was thirteen. When I turned thirteen my mom decided I needed fixing because my life was the library, school, and home, and all my friends were adults. A friend of my mom’s told her that church could help and it’s free. So, she found out there was a youth meeting close by and then she dropped me at the meeting with the order ‘You don’t leave before 5’. I was terrified, but I fell in love with it.  

At the time in Brazil, it was the peak of liberation theology. There were so many conversations about the Bible, social movements, theology, transforming the world. There was a revolution happening in Nicaragua, everybody was talking about solidarity, and how can we help the peasants. I was moved by it, so I stayed. It was an ecumenical group, so I was not particularly connected to any particular tradition in that period and in my city, there were no Anglicans. Then I met one group called Ecumenical Centre for Biblical Studies when I was about fourteen. Again, it’s an ecumenical setting, not denominational. Because of this group I fell in love with the Bible. I loved that it was complex, it triggered my curiosity again, and this is why I became a Biblical scholar.  

When I was in my 20s I got involved with the Anglican church but I was not very good at attending because I was studying, and involved with social movements and ecumenical movements. I started to be more present when I decided to quit being a professor, when I was living in Brasilia.  

What brought you to Montreal? 

At first, I came here for a sabbatical but it got cut short because something important came up with work. So, now I am working from here. I took this as an opportunity to get to know Dio and foster more collaboration. I am also going to visit PWRDF to participate in conversations about Indigenous theologies because this is a field of interest to me. Right now, I am observing, trying to be a good neighbour and getting to know people, and working on speaking French. My not so hidden agenda is to get people connected, so that people know that our office is at the service of the dioceses.