The History of Union Church Rio

The Union Church of Rio de Janeiro is unusual in its make-up of many denominations and naturality, a unique cross-section of cultures. Like a carousel, members continually arrive and then in a few short years, depart. But all contribute to the uniqueness of Union Church. This constant rotation of members is, in a sense a Union Church strength, but also its variability, its vitality, as well as its frustration.

In 1986, the Union Church of Rio de Janeiro celebrated its one-hundredth year of service to the English-speaking community when the Reverend Hugh Clarence Tucker arrived in Rio on the S.S. Advance. This inauspicious arrival began a rich history that in many ways reflects the vital aspect of the American and English-speaking presence in Brazil over the past one hundred and thirty-three years, the enormous growth and changes in the Brazilian economy, and the growth of Protestantism in Brazil.

Although for the most part eschewing formal colonies for an informal empire, the United States actively participated in the “missionary diplomacy” of the period. In 1881, James L. Kennedy, a Methodist missionary from Tennessee, arrived in Rio to plant the Igreja Metodista. As the American Colony in Rio could not be ignored, Kennedy performed two Sunday services – one in Portuguese and another one in English at the Catete Methodist Church realizing that a pastor for the English-speaking Church was necessary. Thus, they petitioned the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church South of Nashville, Tennessee for a pastor. In May 1886, Rev. Hugh C. Tucker, Pastor of the Park Avenue Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, accepted the post and in June embarked for Rio with Bishop John C. Iranbery and her daughter Ella, who became Dr. Tucker’s wife in 1891. Their journey to Rio took nearly a month and fittingly ended on U.S. Independence Day, 1886.

The years between 1890 and 1914 were years of tremendous growth in Rio de Janeiro and for Union Church. It was during the First Republic (1889-1930) that Rio was transformed with spacious avenues and parks while trolley car lines running throughout the city. It was also that Brazil expanded its borders through negotiations, not wars.

This growth of Rio and Brazilian Commerce brought many American residents to Rio de Janeiro and increased the size of the Union Church. Whereas in the 1880s the American population in Rio numbered less than 500, by 1910 almost 1,000 Americans lived in Rio. The growth of the Church during these years prompted consideration of institutionalizing the Church and moving to separate facilities.

During the initial period of independence, Union Church continued to rely heavily on contributions from the United States. In 1922, Bishop John M. Moore of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church offered Cr$100,000 on the condition that the Union Church acquire a lot and secure funds to erect a building. These donations were later used in 1926 to buy the lot in Copacabana.

However, the victory parades that began in April with V-E Day and continued through 1945 brought tearful goodbyes to many church members and threatened the Church with financial disaster. By the end of 1946, seventy-five percent of the congregation left Brazil. Moreover, a major subsidy to Union Church from the National Council of Churches’ Department of Overseas Churches was discontinued in 1947. That year Union Church became completely self-supporting, relying solely on tithes, pledges, and offerings for its income. Despite the looming financial disaster from the reduced size of the congregation, the Church slowly began to recover and increased its membership as the military dictatorship cooperated more closely with the American government, allowing a vast increase in Americans living in Brazil.

With the influx of foreigners in the 1950’s and 60’s and the spreading out of the city limits came discussions of the necessity of moving and securing a permanent home for Union Church. But parking and the density of Copacabana were not the only considerations in moving the Church. From the late-1960’s Union Church began losing members steadily. Because of the moving of the embassies to Brasilia, replaced by smaller consulates, the phasing out of the U.S. AID programs and military training programs, Rio de Janeiro lost approximately thirty to forty percent of its foreign population and Church membership dropped seventy-five percent between 1964 and 1975.

At a congregation meeting on May 4, 1975, after almost ten years of study and discussion, voted on May 4, 1976, to sell the Copacabana church property. Taking the venture of faith to sell and construct a new church facility in Barra de Tijuca was a difficult and emotional decision for the congregation but was prayerfully accomplished in a spirit of positive progress and stewardship. On the eve of the Great Depression and the end of the 1st Brazilian Republic (1889-1930), Union Church finally moved to its own facility. After using borrowed facilities for forty-three years, the dedication of the new building on June 30, 1929, was a joyous occasion. The new Church was built in a modified Gothic style with gray stone and had a traditional worship ambient. Saturday evening, August 8, 1981, Rev. Wallace W. Williams held the first service in the new sanctuary with. Rev. Williams retired as pastor on November 1984 and preached his final sermon on December 30. He served the Church for over twenty years, the longest pastorate in the history of the Church thus far. On June 2, 2019, Pastor Craig Weyandt, was officially welcomed as the pastor of Union Church.

Moreover, during the economic crisis of 2014 through 2019 and the severe downturn of the oil industry, Union Church lost over 80% of its expatriate members, including many board members. A continuance of the ups and downs of being an international church, yet even through this crisis, the Church was able to attract new English-speaking members, both from Rio de Janeiro and internationally. Currently, the Church welcomed and offered substantial support to many refugee families from different countries, including India and Pakistan.

Throughout Union Church of Rio de Janeiro’s long and blessed history, the Church continues to serve not only its members but also the community.

Pastor Craig Weyandt

UC Values

Gracious: Compassion And Mercy
Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Christian: Word Centered, Spirit Led

2 Tim 3 :16,17
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Generosity: Humble, Stewards

2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Courage: Faith, Go

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Inclusive: Community And Care

Colossians 3:9-13
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another

UC Doctrine

The Union Church of Rio is made up of Christ Followers from many Nations and from a variety of church backgrounds, both cultural and theological.  What we believe is very important to our identity. The Nicene Creed provides us with Christian Doctrine rooted in history, Gospel-Centered and Unifying.

Our Pastor

Pastor Craig Weyandt is originally from the United States growing up in a variety of small towns and big cities, mostly in the North East. However, he came to know Jesus in a Chicago Suburb and graduated from Taylor University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Communications. He did his theological studies at Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary and graduated in 1990. Pastor Craig is ordained by the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and has served with EFCA Reach Global in Rio de Janeiro for the past 19 years. His passion for the local church, making disciples and pastoral ministry began when he was an adolescent as a result of coming to know Jesus in a personal way and “bowing the knee” to Him as his Lord and Savior. God used the legacy of his parent’s faith, deep friendships in the local Church and Gifted Pastors teaching the Word of God, as catalysts to respond to Jesus’ gracious call to follow him and fish for people. More recently Pastor Craig’s spiritual and cultural journey has been greatly enhanced by walking alongside of brave disciples, church-planters, and missionaries working in the poor and dangerous neighborhoods of Rio. Working in Partnership towards Gospel Endeavors that leads to transformed lives among the humble and meek has been his greatest privilege as a cross-cultural missionary. Craig is married to Alessandra and father of Alyssia. Sports, Fishing and Outdoor activities for many years had been his hobbies, but today what he enjoys most on his time off is date-night in Zona Sul with Alessandra and drawing pictures of Mermaids and Princesses (and sometimes Tigers) with his 5-year-old daughter, Alyssia. The following is an invitation to come visit UC by Pastor Craig.

Pastor Craig Weyandt

UC Directions & Services

Our 10.00am Sunday services are informal with contemporary worship, prayer and the preaching of God’s Word. There is no dress code at the church, so come smart or casual as you feel is most comfortable for Rio’s weather.

During the service we provide an opportunity for our church family to give financially towards the work of the church. As a guest, please do not feel obliged to participate in the offering unless you want to.

Before the preaching begins, the children (2 ½ -12) leave for their own activities. If your child is younger you may like to consider using the supervised crèche that is available the whole meeting.

On the first Sunday of the month we have the Lord’s Supper together to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. If you are a Christian, you are welcome to join us in this meal. If you would not consider yourself a Christian, feel free not to participate – no offense taken.

Every Sunday we serve drinks and snacks straight after the morning meeting and on the first Sunday of the month, we enjoy lunch together. As you will see, doing church together doesn’t stop when the meeting finishes – it carries on!

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your Word.