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A Covenant for Cuba?

By Matthew Townsend

For the past year, the Episcopal Church of Cuba has seemed on the verge of full reintegration with the larger Episcopal Church — but a proposal from the House of Deputies could delay a more complete reunion.

Resolution D060, discussed July 5 by General Convention’s Episcopal Church in Cuba Committee, strikes a more cautious note than A052, developed by the Task Force on the Episcopal Church in Cuba.

The Church of Cuba is overseen by a metropolitan council consisting of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada, and Archbishop John Holder of the West Indies, but it does not belong to a larger church province and has no primate. The task force was charged by the 2015 General Convention to consider the Cuban church’s request to rejoin the Episcopal Church as a diocese.

The result: a resolution that recommends a relationship based on prayer, partnership, and pensions. The resolution would make Cuban clergy eligible to participate in the Church Pension Fund’s International Clergy Pension Plan, and it would direct the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance to allocate funds for those pensions.

Resolution A052 would also charge an eight-person interim group with overseeing “full integration into the life, ministry, and mission of the Episcopal Church,” with $50,000 to fund the group.

Proposed by Canon Paul Ambos, a member of the committee, D060 would also invite Cuban clergy into the pension plan and would encourage increased companionship between Episcopal dioceses and the church in Cuba. In addition, it would direct the Episcopal Church to provide $300,000 in block grants to Cuba and would welcome Cuban bishops to participate as collegial members of the House of Bishops.

Where D060 differs, however, is in the covenant — rather than reintegrating the Episcopal Church in Cuba as the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba, the two churches would enter a covenanted relationship.

“The parties to this Covenant acknowledge that additional work is needed to prepare both TEC and IEC for IEC to be admitted as a Diocese in union with General Convention,” the proposed covenant reads. Similar to A052, the covenant would establish a joint committee on consultation “to plan, consult, cooperate, and offer advice as to the actions to be taken both before the General Convention of TEC can admit IEC as a Diocese and after such admission becomes effective.”

Resolution D060’s explanation says:

The task force has proposed Resolution A052, which asks for continued dialogue but does not call for a covenant structure for the next triennium, as has facilitated other dioceses in the past. It requests a budget allocation of $50,000 to cover a continuation of a body that would “discuss arising issues and share and respond to new information as the relationship develops”, but it does not offer a process that can develop concrete steps that will be needed to bring IEC into union with TEC. Also, the task force makes no provision for continuing the block grant to Cuba, which will need to be increased (a) because of the reduction in support for IEC from the Anglican Church of Canada and (b) to cover current pension payments that up to now were provided from the Presiding Bishop’s Discretionary Fund.”

For those who testified at the committee, the declaration that work must be done before reintegration can happen was a point of contention.

The Rev. Mark Pendleton of New Hampshire, a member of the task force who has a long history with Cuba, did not speak against the resolution, but he shared concerns about “how this could potentially seem like Cuba is in limbo — not fully in TEC, and not fully out of the Metropolitan Council.”

“The reality in Cuba right now is great anxiety and stress,” he said. “It is being pinched from all sides, economically and diplomatically. They struggle to even send delegations here because visas are next to impossible to get at the U.S. embassy in Havana. As you all deliberate, I would just really ask that you to think about the struggles that the people in Cuba have. If they are not admitted at this convention, I do not think that their spirits will be broken. Cuban Episcopalians are very faithful. But I’m just concerned about the lack of clarity here, how this would impact the church in these next few years.”

Jeremy Cage, founder of the Friends of the Episcopal Church of Cuba, referred to Cold War expulsion of the Cuban church as a failure to follow the way of Jesus due to political expediency. Yet the church has thrived, he said.

“Under the leadership of Bishop Griselda [Delgado del Carpio], the Episcopal Church in Cuba is growing. She’s providing villages with purified water, so they can be healthy and safe. She’s torn out all of the gardens around churches to plant crops to feed the people of the village. She’s created safe spaces for women and for children.” Youth and adults have come back to church, he said.

“In terms of the importance of this resolution to reconcile the United States’ Episcopal Church with Cuba, I actually think not only do they need us more than ever, but as a church here in the U.S. that is on a pretty steep decline, I think we need them more than never. I think that message may have gotten lost in translation.”

Bishop Delgado told the committee through a translator that the task force, in the last three years, had worked toward integration and cooperation as a family. “We had a clear path of all the steps we needed to take, and the Cuban church has taken those steps,” she said.

The first step was to make the Cuban canons consistent with the Episcopal Church’s canons. The Standing Committee of the church approved that work, it was presented on October 31, 2017, and the Metropolitan Council contributed.

A letter of commitment to a diocesan parochial report, budgetary contributions, and a report on financial assistance from General Convention was completed. “This was all done, it was signed, and it was sent,” she said. “We also presented a budget … and that was sent to the task force. The task force sent it to Executive Council.”

Delgado added that the church in Cuba has been working with Church Pension Group in the last three years, and a report on this has been prepared. Cubans also decided to join Province II, upon reentering the Episcopal Church.

“This is the work that we were asked to do and we have complied with every single step we were asked to do. The last step was to attend General Convention and participate in all the things that had to do with this topic,” she said. A special synod has already been planned to commit the Cuban church to the Episcopal Church’s canons following General Convention.

“It came to me as a great surprise and it caused me deep sadness to hear people say that the church in Cuba is not ready to become an integral part of the Episcopal Church again,” she said. “Cuba, as a church, never wanted to separate. I don’t think that the Episcopal Church wanted to separate, either. I think it was a matter of circumstances of the time, the political situation that led us to separate from each other. It wasn’t that we left. People say that we left — no, we never left. Right now, we are quite aware of what’s going on, and we’re very happy to have the possibility of reuniting back with our family.

“I don’t want the Cuban church, my brothers and sisters back there, to think that in 2021 there might be another surprise, and that this will be dragged on, and that we’ll remain isolated and separated from our family,” Delgado said.


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