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  • Lynette Wilson

Cuban church celebrates 110 years, its final synod before Episcopal Church reintegration

[Episcopal News Service – Havana, Cuba] The Episcopal Church of Cuba recently celebrated its 110-year history during its final synod as an autonomous diocese in anticipation of its official reintegration with the U.S.-based Episcopal Church in 2020.

“For 50 years the Episcopal Church has been isolated,” said Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio, at the close of the Feb. 28-March 3 General Synod held at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana. Reintegration, she said, “is a way to be part of a big family.”

Delgado’s strong leadership drove the reintegration, said Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada, who serves as chair of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba. The council has overseen the Cuban church since its separation from The Episcopal Church in the late 1960s.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio and Archbishop Fred Hiltz of the Anglican Church of Canada stand outside Holy Trinity Cathedral in Havana, following the opening Eucharist of the 110th General Synod on Feb. 28. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“I mean every word when I say, she’s a visionary, she’s a hard worker,” said Hiltz, in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “She will do anything to promote the interest, well-being and resource capacity to support the ministry of this church. She’s steadfast, she perseveres, and it’s not always been easy for her.

“Not everybody was thrilled with the idea of returning to The Episcopal Church, but she just plodded along consistently, she’s worked with the clergy, the laity. I watched her prepare for the special synod last year to decide what province they would belong to, and just the careful way she made sure there was conversation all the way across the church here in Cuba. They came into the synod with the decision, and that’s a huge credit to her style – organized and focused, spiritually centered leadership.”

The Diocese of Cuba is set to join Province II, which includes dioceses from New York and New Jersey in the United States, the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, Haiti and the Virgin Islands.

The Cuban church’s reintegration with The Episcopal Church was one of many topics discussed during the synod, which brought together clergy and laity from across the island.

“We are indeed so happy to welcome the church in Cuba back into The Episcopal Church; there is so much that we can learn from their creative approach to ministry and mission,” said the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church.

The House of Bishops on July 10, 2018, voted unanimously to readmit the Cuban church as a diocese, with the House Deputies concurring. The actions of the 79th General Convention accelerated the reintegration process first set in motion four years ago.

Cuba Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio leads the recessional following the Feb. 28 Eucharist opening the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

In March 2015, two months after the United States and Cuba agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations following a 54-year breach, the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s synod voted 39 to 33 in favor of returning to the church’s former affiliation with The Episcopal Church. That summer, the 78th General Convention called for closer relations with the Cuban church and a lifting of the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

The Rev. John Kafwanka, the Anglican Communion’s director for mission, gives a presentation about the importance of training Christians for ministry in their everyday lives. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

The Episcopal Church of Cuba traces its origins back to an Anglican presence that began on the island in 1871. In 1901, it became a missionary district of The Episcopal Church. The two churches separated in the 1960s, after Fidel Castro seized power following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and diplomatic relations between the two countries disintegrated. The Episcopal Church of Cuba has functioned as an autonomous diocese of the Anglican Communion under the authority of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba since the separation in 1967. The primates of the Anglican churches of Canada and the West Indies and The Episcopal Church chair the Metropolitan Council.

The synod marked the final time Hiltz, who has served as the chair of the Metropolitan Council for 12 years and is set to retire later this year, would attend.

“It’s a bit emotional for me, this synod. It is my last synod here as the primate of Canada and the chair of the Metropolitan Council,” he said.

“It’s mixed emotions – great joy that things have come thus far. I would have felt really awkward ending my time as the chair of the Metropolitan Council if things hadn’t been as far along in terms of the reintegration,” said Hiltz. “It’s been just really wonderful to watch that process unfold since 2015. I’m really happy to see it coming to fruition and to think that at next year’s synod, their presiding bishop will be here because they have sometimes spoken of me as their primate. And I guess for all intents and purposes I have been.”

Pending alignment of the Cuban and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church’s constitutions and canons and signoff from the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church, next March, the Diocese of Cuba will hold its first convention along with a celebration and visit from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

The Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, gave a presentation on March 2 about next steps in the process of reintegration during the 110th General Synod. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service

“We are deeply thankful to Archbishop Hiltz, to the Metropolitan Council (of Cuba) and the Anglican Church of Canada for their years of faithful partnership and support to the church in Cuba,” said Robertson.

Delgado was installed in November 2010. Prior to that, Bishop Miguel Tamayo of the Anglican Church of Uruguay served the church as an interim bishop for six years, splitting his time between Montevideo and Havana. Bishops from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have also served in that role; both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are Episcopal Church dioceses in Province IX.

On Feb. 27, The Episcopal Church announced a campaign to raise pension funds for retired and active clergy in the Episcopal Church of Cuba. The average priest’s salary in Cuba is $55 per month; the Cuban government doesn’t recognize religious employment, rendering clergy ineligible for state pensions or social security. Over the last 50 years, clergy have had to forgo pensions. The establishment of a pension system provides some security to clergy who can now rely on the church into old age, said Delgado.

The Cuban church has 23 clergy members serving 10,000 Episcopalians in 46 congregations and missions across the island. At the time of the official announcement, The Episcopal Church already had raised more than half of the targeted one-time amount of $800,000. The money, to be managed by the Church Pension Fund, makes up for the absence of contributions during the separation and addresses an injustice.

“This is part of the work of reconciliation, bringing us together across historic divides. This is not just fundraising; it’s following Jesus and finding our way back to each other,” said Curry, in a press release.

During the church’s February Executive Council meeting, Curry referred to the pensions campaign and the Church of Cuba’s return to The Episcopal Church as an act of “reconciliation no matter what our governments do.” The Obama administration attempted to open relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments; before President Donald Trump’s election, travel restrictions imposed on American citizens were relaxed. In 2017, Trump restored the restrictions.

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

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