By Mark Harris
The Episcopal Church of Haiti held its 117th Synod on January 29 at Holy Trinity Cathedral. The cathedral, destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, is in its present incarnation housed in a temporary structure behind the ruins of the old cathedral.
But there is nothing temporary about the cathedral as the central focus of the life of the Episcopal Church of Haiti. The 161 clergy and lay delegates, 20 seminarians, and a large number of guests from every deanery of the church were there to participate in planning for the future.
In his address to the delegates at the Eucharist, the Rt. Rev. Jean Zache Duracin set the theme for the day’s deliberations, calling the delegates to understand mission as participation in God’s mission. He reminded delegates that Bishop James Theodore Holly’s vision was of an “Orthodox Apostolic Church” in Haiti. He said the work of the church is guided by both the conviction that God calls the Church to mission and that God’s call to the Episcopal Church of Haiti requires it becoming a church of Haiti. Concerns for mission and autonomy were at the core of Holly’s vision and central to the issues facing this synod.
In his address Bishop Duracin announced that a new mission initiative, long in the planning, was now ready to begin — the training, ordaining and deploying of persons called to the diaconate. Deacons’ training will begin as soon as possible following synod.
Bishop Duracin called for receptive consideration of the resolution to create the Diocese of North Haiti and to seek consent from the General Convention to do so. This move is both a missionary strategy and a step toward greater autonomy. The call does not assume any additional support from the Episcopal Church, but rather greater support from the parishes and missions of the Church of Haiti.
Division into two dioceses requires that parishes throughout the church be strengthened to be autonomous parishes and pushes the whole church to consider its autonomy. He stressed that the cathedral was to serve the whole of the Episcopal Church of Haiti.
In the Eucharist Bishop Duracin also installed the Rev. Gasner Damus of the Diocese of Long Island and the Ven. Fritz Bazin of the Diocese of Southeast Florida as honorary canons of Holy Trinity Cathedral, and received the Rev. Roldano Auguste, a Lutheran pastor, to exercise priestly ministry in the Episcopal Church of Haiti.
The morning session organized the Synod by electing officers and heard from several guests. They saw a PowerPoint report on the progress in design for Holy Trinity Cathedral from Tom Kerns of the Kerns Group, who answered questions from the delegates. The hope is to begin work in 2015-16 following approval of the final plans.
The synod broke up into five deanery meetings to discuss the theme of “Autonomy.”
Following lunch the resolution to create a Diocese of North Haiti was introduced. Following an explanation of it by the Rt. Rev. Ogé Beauvoir, Suffragan Bishop of Haiti, 73 delegates voted for, none against, and one abstained.
A second resolution, to consider organization of the remaining deanery areas in the light of the first resolution, also passed.
The synod voted unanimously to enter a companion relationship with the Diocese of Southeast Florida.
After considerable discussion the synod rejected a resolution growing from a report by the Committee on Constitution and Canons on the work of a suffragan bishop.
Bishop Beauvoir announced that he would represent Haiti at a White House meeting and has been asked by the Presiding Bishop to serve in a mediation role in a conflict in Africa.
Bishop Duracin closed with hopes for safe travels and gave his blessing to the assembly.
Following the great earthquake of 2010, Bishop Duracin said the church and the country had to “get up and walk” —it had to rise from that terrible catastrophe and work out its future. Both civil society and the church have struggled with the need not only to build again but to do so in ways that work for Haitian self-reliance and self-governance. This has meant that reconstruction must mirror resurrection and transformation, not resuscitation and transaction only.
The mission established by the Rev. James Theodore Holly had as its goal the formation of an autonomous “Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti,” part of the wider Anglican Communion of churches but genuinely Haitian and self-reliant. After a half century of leadership by Holly, and after 100 years of sustained ministry as a mission diocese of the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church of Haiti has set its course to become once again an autonomous and at the same time interdependent church within the Anglican family of churches.
This move will require new thinking about almost all work by the Church as it works to respond to God’s mission. The roles and functions of all ministers of the church — laity, bishops, priests and deacons — will have to be reconsidered in the context of ministry in and to Haiti. The function of a national cathedral — Holy Trinity — and other national institutions will have to be re-envisioned in light of growing autonomy for the church in Haiti. United Thank Offering in Haiti has already begun to envision its role in an autonomous and interconnected Anglican world.
This synod marks a turning point in the development of a 21st-century Episcopal Church of Haiti.
The Rev. Canon Mark Harris, priest associate at St. Peter’s Church in Lewes, Delaware, edits Preludium.
Image: The architect's vision of the proposed new Holy Trinity Cathedral.