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Bishop Dietsche's reconciliation sermon from March 8th, 2020

Below is the full transcript of Bishop Dietsche's reconciliation sermon that he gave following the 111th Synod in Havana - where the US and Cuban Episcopal Churches were officially reunited. It's a historically significant sermon that is worth reading from start to finish.

The Rt. Rev. Andrew  ML. Dietsche

Bishop of  New York

March 8, 2020

Second Sunday in Lent

Cathedral Santísima Trinidad – Havana, Cuba

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is a delight, and a privilege, to join you this morning at the cathedral church of the Diocese of Cuba, and to accept Bishop Griselda's invitation to preach here this morning. I am Andrew Dietsche, and I am the Bishop of New York. I am here with one of the delegations from the Episcopal Church, and all of us are here because we love this church and your bishop, and all of us are honored to share with you the historic event of the Synod, and to walk alongside you as we celebrate the coming back together of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Cuba.

The relationship between the Diocese of Cuba and the Episcopal Church is long, but like every relationship of long standing, it is complicated. Thirty years after Bishop Whipple and the very beginning of the Anglican presence in Cuba in 1871, the Episcopal Church welcomed the Cuban church as a missionary district in 1901. From then until after the Cuban revolution we were one church. And then in the 1960s, the Episcopal Church separated from the Diocese of Cuba. We were in mission for thirty years, and then we were bound into covenant with one another for over sixty years, then we fell apart, and then we were separated for over fifty years. Now we have gathered to celebrate our coming back together, and this is a happy and blessed reunification - I am certain that it is of God - but it is complicated, and for those of us who have come from the United States it is appropriate that this Synod is taking place in Lent, for we come in repentance. The hour of reunification is for us also the hour in which we must acknowledge the wrongs done to the Diocese of Cuba by the Episcopal Church, and to mark this new chapter of our life with a pledge to find a new way forward that respects, honors and cherishes the rich, God-filled life and heritage of the Cuban church.  

The separation that happened after the Cuban Revolution was not a mutual agreement. It was not negotiated, and it was not requested by Cuba. It was a unilateral decision by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in 1967 to expel Cuba from our fellowship.  

We had the opportunity to make a witness before the world to unity in the hour of division, and to fellowship and holy communion across the divides between nations and political movements. Instead the Episcopal bishops allowed the political passions of the day, and the fears of the American government, to overwhelm our own common life, and rendered the gospel witness of the church subservient to the worldly powers and fears around us. That was an act of unfaith, and we very much repent of it. We are sorry. And that failure to be strong in the gospel when the world was running away from itself must stand as a lesson for us in every age, that it is especially when the world is in tumult and change that the mandate on the church to be strong in Spirit and in Christ is most urgent. And then the Diocese of Cuba suffered, without the encouragement, and the material support and nurture, which you had received when you were a Missionary District of the Episcopal Church.

But while the resourced assistance of the Episcopal Church was wanted, it should never be thought that the Diocese of Cuba was ever spiritually dependent on the Episcopal Church. Over the many years of our separation, the Diocese of Cuba has courageously continued your powerful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and engaged your mission and ministries in Cuba with a resilience and depth of faith which is a model and inspiration for the larger world and the wider church. You have stewarded the church well with courage, strength and faith, and with the continued friendship of Archbishop Fred Hiltz and the faithful people of Canada, and in the West Indies, and across our communion, and in the United States too, all who love Cuba. You continued to train people in the art of Christian ministry, and you have created in your diocese a host of well equipped lay leaders and missioners whose partnership with priests and bishops has been the brilliance of the Cuban church through these years. You have baptized new Christians, and raised up generations to love Jesus and serve God. You have called men and women into the ordained and lay ministries of the church and lifted them up before God and the church. In all this you have made a witness to the loving, transformational possibilities of God to the people around you whom you have been called to serve.  

And in doing so you have put a distinctly Cuban face on the Episcopal Church, and brought the vibrancy of Cuban art and music and dance and song, as well as a witness to the strength of a faith that prevails in adversity, into the deep Anglican tradition of life, worship and theology, and that has been part of the unique gift which you have given and continue to give to the Anglican and Episcopal world. Too often the Cuban church has suffered by its poverty in material resources. But you have been rich in those things that matter to God and the people of God. You have been rich in Christ. Please know that we Americans understand that in coming back together, we are rejoining a Cuban church which has made good use of the years of our separation. We know that we are coming back together with a church of maturity and grace, courage and resilience, whose life and culture and ways of being church and talking about Christ will enrich us too. Where the Holy Spirit has moved through your church in cities and villages and in all the places where you love the people of God. We have come to share with you what we have, but even more, to learn from you those things which you know and we need.  

The church in America is no stranger to decline and fear, and we struggle in our largest cities and smallest towns to survive and maybe thrive against the indifference of much of the culture around us. We worry about how we will sustain the church with fewer people and less money. I think you know something about that. I think you know things about staying brave and strong and faithful against daunting odds that we have to learn. You have so much to teach us, and we look forward to the ways in which through continued conversation with one another, and prayer with and for one another, and in common mission and ministry with one another, and in sharing and engaging with one another, we will also learn from one another and teach one another and grow in grace and favor before God together.  

For years, your Bishop Griselda engaged people across the Diocese of Cuba, and across the dioceses of the Episcopal Church, in the open and honest, candid and no doubt sometimes difficult conversations a bout reunification and what that might mean. Not everyone in Cuba favored it. No one knew in full what it would mean. I am sure that there were those who looked at your big neighbor to the north and feared being swallowed up, and that the wonderful character of the Cuban church would disappear. We want to say now that that will never happen. We have come here because we believe that the offerings and graces of the Cuban church will enhance and enrich the American church, and strengthen our witness, and it is in partnership with you as exactly who you are - the unique voice and life of the Cuban church - that we long to join, and engage, and cherish. I am sure that there were those who had labored long over all these years to build and serve and carry foreword the Cuban church who remembered when the Episcopal Church said that it did not need you. We want to say now that it is precisely because we do need you that we are here, and why we too have prayed for this reunification.  

But all the while, Griselda continued to make her case, to listen and teach and pray and love all of her people in Cuba and in America, so that when this time and this happy occasion came it would be with Cubans and Americans gathered before the same altar, glad for the coming together, and excited about what this might mean for the church in both great lands. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said over and over that we are all part of the Jesus Movement. That the Episcopal Church is just one branch of a movement that Jesus started that covers the whole world. The same can be said of Cuba. Griselda saw that before everyone else, and she has faithfully held up before you and before the Episcopal Church a vision of all of us following Jesus together, as one people, true brother and sisters of one another and of Jesus too.

At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2018 I was honored to be on the committee that wrote resolutions to bring to the Convention proposing this reunification. I wish you could have been there. The resolution was brought first to the House of Bishops. Words were said in support of this effort, and no words were spoken against it. When the resolution passed, it did so unanimously, and all the bishops rose to our feet with thunderous applause. Griselda was in the visitors gallery, and at once the barrier that divided the room was forced open and she was escorted into the House and given her seat among us. Finally among us as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church, our true sister. The next day the House of Deputies affirmed the action, also unanimously. We were really affirming you. The conversations you had been having for years, and the debates, and the votes, and your prayers and your hopes. Which became our prayers and our hopes too.  

All of us have to live with our history. The things we have done and the things we have left undone. The ways we have sometimes been heroic apostles of Christ, and the ways in which we have sometimes betrayed our call as baptized people, and forsaken the relationships and people who thought they could depend on us. This is true in our own homes and in our neighborhoods, and it is true of nations and peoples, and it is true of the church. We had an early thirty year courtship, and then a long sixty year marriage, and then a protracted fifty year separation. All of that is what we bring to one another now. The struggles and the glory. Going forward together means that we must live lives of constant repentance, but heeding also the command to constant forgiveness. Always coming back to one another. Always turning our faces toward one another. The Ash Wednesday words and poetry of brokenness and longing and human sin are still in our ears. We in the Episcopal Church are sorry for the things we have done. And we are sorry we broke fellowship with you when maybe you needed us to be faithful. These are the days of penance and reconciliation, and the miracle of all that, and of the Peace of Christ, is that it can only happen when we cross over to one another with broken hearts, and spirits open to new possibilities.  

This morning we heard that wonderful reading from Genesis. It tells of the first time that God spoke to Abraham, the one who would stand for all time as the most faithful. Chapter after chapter of the Old Testament tells the story of Abraham and God, and of the intimate, passionate, sometimes infuriating relationship and friendship shared by a man and his God. First words are important, and may tell us much about the relationship to come. God's first word to Abraham was "Go." Go from your father's house to a place I will show you that you do not yet know. That was where it all began. With the voice of God in the ears of one man, with that man's infinite capacity to trust, with a journey into the unknown, and then a new land, a new faith, and a new people shining like the stars in the night.  

This is what it is like to be the church, and to serve a God of mystery. We are always in continual movement out of a past of mingled glory and failure, of saintliness and sin, into a future open to all possibility, but hidden from our eyes for a time. God said "Go," and after that everything that has ever happened or ever will happens as an act of trust. Trust in God, of course, but also, and critically, trust in one another. I think that God said something like that to Griselda. Something important. A prophecy or vision, a promise and a future. And she trusted God, and has labored to bring us into that vision. And to call two countries and two churches to come and go with her, and to journey with her to a place we will not know until we arrive. We really are beginning a new life together. If we do not know exactly where this will take us, remember that we aren't supposed to. It is enough for us now simply to trust and believe that it will take us, together again, into the deepest currents of God. Amen.

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