Episcopal Church of Cuba, Episcopal Church reunification discussed

July 4, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] After more than five decades of separation, the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of Cuba may once again unite.

Reunification would not only be good for the churches, but also for the country, said the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, during a July 4 open hearing of The Episcopal Church in Cuba Committee held at the Hilton. “I believe, whether it’s in five, 10 or 20 years, God will see that all good things happen for us,” said Delgado, through an interpreter.

The 79th General Convention officially gets underway with legislative sessions July 5 at the Austin Convention Center and runs through July 13.

Resolution A052 calls for general convention “to welcome with joy the request of the sisters and brothers of the Episcopal Church in Cuba to reunite with the Episcopal Church”; for diocese and congregations to establish relationships with the Cuban church; to provide financial support for the church and bring clergy into the Church Pension Fund;  he formation of a three-year interim body to accompany the Diocese of Cuba as it fully integrates into the Episcopal Church.

During her testimony, Delgado mentioned the diocese’s scarcity of resources, it’s crumbling infrastructure and its inability to compensate clergy, and the isolation both the church and she and previous bishops have felt. But, she said, despite the church’s isolation and the fact that it functions in a largely secular society, it is a part of the Jesus Movement.

Should reunification happen, the Cuban church wishes to join Province II, which includes dioceses in New York, New Jersey, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

Rena Turnham, who is a member of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota’s Commission on Cuba Ministry and has observed the church’s ministry firsthand, testified to the church’s ability to provide for people in need despite having few resources. The church, she said, often steps in to provide assistance when the government cannot do so.

Ernesto Medina, an alternate from the Diocese of Nebraska and who also has visited the Cuban church, testified to the strength of the church’s laity.

“I actually think the Episcopal Church cannot survive without the church in Cuba,” said Medina. “I have never seen such lay empowerment; that’s a skillset that this church does not have.”

Medina suggest it be written in the resolution that the Cuban church share its method for empowering lay members with the Episcopal Church.

Archbishop of Canada Fred Hiltz, who has served on the Metropolitan Council of Cuba for 11 years, said the Episcopal Church in Cuba and its bishop would be less isolated should the churches reunite and that the Episcopal Church stands to gain a strong partner in ministry.

“What awaits the Episcopal Church is the receiving, in my opinion, of a diocese deeply committed to the [Anglican] Marks of Mission, though poor financially, extraordinarily generous.”

The committee formed four subcommittees to study a covenant committee, constitutional and canonical issues with reunification, pension and Resolution A052. While the committee held its hearing, a second resolution, D060, Establish a Covenant with the Diocese of Cuba was filed.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba is an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba. The council is chaired by the primates of the Anglican churches of Canada and the West Indies and the Episcopal Church. The council has overseen the church in Cuba since it separated from the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 1967.

The Episcopal Church of Cuba traces its origins back to an Anglican presence beginning in 1901. Today there are some 46 congregations and missions serving 10,000 members and the wider communities. During the 1960s, Fidel Castro’s government began cracking down on religion, jailing religious leaders and believers, and it wasn’t until the Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba, the first ever visit by a Roman Catholic pope to the island, that the government began a move back toward tolerance of religion.

The Cuban Revolution, led by Castro, began in 1953 and lasted until President Fulgencio Batista was forced from power in 1959. Batista’s anti-communist, authoritarian government was replaced with a socialist state, which in 1965 aligned itself with the communist party. In 2008 Raul Castro replaced as president his ailing brother, who died in November 2016.

In April, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez was elected president of Cuba, ending decades of Castro-led rule. Díaz-Canel had served as vice president since 2013 and was expected to become president.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama restored full diplomatic relations with Cuba, and loosening travel and trade restrictions. The Trump administration later tightened those restrictions.

– Lynette Wilson is a reporter and managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.