Required constitutional change will push reunification to 2021
Turns out it seems there is no mechanism for the Episcopal Church to admit an existing diocese into its structure without making a change to its constitution: a change that requires approval by two successive conventions.
The 79th General Convention is underway at the Austin Convention Center and runs through July 13. The 80th General Convention will convene in 2021.
The Episcopal Church in Cuba Committee spent two sessions July 6 deliberating the language of two new resolutions, A209, Reunification with the Episcopal Church of Cuba, and Resolution A214, which addresses the necessary constitutional and canonical changes. It will hold an open hearing on the two resolutions beginning at 7:30 a.m. on July 7 in the Hilton Austin Grand Ballroom K.
“The first one, A209, expresses regret over the history that brought us to this place … and our strong desire for reunification,” said Becky Snow, who co-chairs the committee along with New Jersey Bishop William “Chip” Stokes.
Resolution A029 calls on General Convention to express its joy at the Episcopal Church of Cuba’s request to rejoin the Episcopal Church; lament the House of Bishops’ action in 1966 that split the two churches; note that the two churches “seek to employ God’s justice to confront our shared brokenness, and to equip and empower our efforts toward healing, wholeness and reconciliation for generations to come”; desire complete reunification; express deep regret that structural and constitutional issues prevent the realization of fullest expression of reunification at the 79th General Convention; and expresses the Episcopal Church’s eagerness “to share a future” with the Cuban Episcopal Church.
To prepare for the admission of the Episcopal Church of Cuba, the committee drafted Resolution A214, which commends the church for meeting the actions proposed by the Task Force on Cuba, which General Convention created in 2015 to facilitate the reunification of the two churches.
“We recognized that there needed to be a resolution that was not our resolution that went to Governance and Structure about necessary canonical changes, which they are working on to help not merely with Cuba, but in the event that a request like this should come again we have something in place according to our Constitution and Canons,” Stokes told Episcopal News Service. He added that the notion that a diocese already established as an Anglican Communion province wasn’t foreseen.
The constitutional change to accept a diocese outside the Episcopal Church’s structure and the canonical change necessary to accept a bishop elected, or in this case appointed, in another Anglican province didn’t present themselves until the committee began its deliberations.
Resolution A214 expresses the 79th General Convention’s desire for an immediate reunification, though recognizing that the Episcopal Church “has yet to attend to the structural and canonical requirements necessary and pledges to complete the following actions to welcome” the Episcopal Church of Cuba as a diocese to the 80th General Convention.
Further, it calls for the necessary constitutional and canonical changes to name Cuba a diocese; it calls for the bishop of Cuba’s participation in the House of Bishops; the continued establishment of diocesan and congregational companion relationships; and $400,00 for support of the Cuban church’s ongoing mission and ministry. It also sets the Cuban clergy’s eligibility to participate in the International Clergy Pension Plan administered by the Church Pension Fund at the close of convention.
When the relationship between the two churches ended, so did clergy pensions.
“It’s been difficult for the Diocese of Cuba and we certainly recognize the pain and strain of that,” said Stokes. “But we also believe that this will create permanent changes that should anything like this happen in the future we’re much more able to deal with it in a way that’s fair and treating others the same rather than just making things up as we go.”
Finally, A214 calls for an interim body to accompany the two churches through their transition to re-unification and $50,000 to fund that work.
During its July 4 open hearing 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 July 4 hearing, a second resolution, D060, to establish a covenant with the Diocese of Cuba was filed. Later, the committee decided to strike the covenant language.
The House of Bishops took its action in 1966 in response to the effects of the Cuban Revolution and the United States’ response. 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.
Formerly a missionary district, 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, 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.
Prior to that time, in 1961, Episcopal schools in Cuba had been closed and appropriated, and many clergy and their families were displaced. Some remained in Cuba; some either returned or immigrated to the United States. Some clergy who remained in Cuba were imprisoned, executed, or disappeared. Church buildings were closed and left to deteriorate. The church was polarized politically, and its clergy and lay leaders suffered. But the Church continued, in the living rooms of the grandmothers, who held prayer services and Bible studies in their homes. Through them is transmitted a story of pain, and of faith.
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 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.