Members of synod for the Episcopal Church of Cuba narrowly voted in favour of returning to the church’s former affiliation with The Episcopal Church at their recent meeting last month in Cárdenas, Cuba.
The move came two months after the historic decision by the United States and Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations after a 54-year hiatus. The Cuban church had been part of a province in The Episcopal Church until the 1959 revolution, which made travel and communication between the two churches difficult. The Metropolitan Council of Cuba (MCC)-which includes primates of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Province of West Indies and The Episcopal Church-was subsequently created to provide support and oversight.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary, attended the synod-which ran from Feb. 19 to 22-as representatives of the MCC.
Hiltz said the vote on that resolution, which was 39 in favour and 33 against, showed that the synod was divided on the issue. “When the results of the vote were announced, there was just absolute silence,” he said. “There were some people that were feeling a sense of victory and others who were feeling a real sense of loss.”
He explained that the diocesan council had prepared another resolution for synod that would have established a commission to study the future relationship of the diocese of Cuba with a province in the Anglican Communion (without specifying any particular province) and that also made reference to a diocesan-wide consultation on the matter and to the role of the MCC.
But before that resolution could be put before the synod, a substitute resolution, which called for a return to The Episcopal Church, was presented, and according to the chancellor’s interpretation of the rules of order, the substitute resolution was the one that was to be dealt with first.
With the bishop’s permission, Hiltz said he spoke to the synod before the vote to point out the differences between the two resolutions, noting that the one from council “opened all kinds of doors,” including considering a return to The Episcopal Church, while the other closed doors to other options and to a diocesan-wide consultation. Hiltz said he also mentioned that a resolution from diocesan council would normally be dealt with first. “I said what I could. I’m not the chair of their synod. I’m just there to represent the MCC and provide a bit of guidance.
“On Sunday, before his sermon was read in Spanish, Hiltz addressed synod members to say he was sorry they were divided on the issue and that this was “a particularly difficult moment for [Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio] because she has to minister to everyone.” When contacted by the Anglican Journal, Bishop Delgado del Carpio declined to comment on the matter at this time.
The Journal also contacted the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was not able to comment at press time but said that she would soon.
Hiltz said that the MCC hopes to meet face-to-face in April and to hear from Bishop Delgado at that time about how the diocesan council is handling the resolution that passed.
Hiltz went on to explain that one of the significant factors behind the drafting of the substitute resolution is “the frustration of a number of people in the church in Cuba with the fact that since the break with The Episcopal Church and the political situation between Cuba and U.S., the pension fund for clergy has just basically been frozen [in the U.S.].” Clergy who were contributing to a pension fund before the political split 50 years ago are able to get their pension via an arrangement with the Anglican Church of Canada, but younger clergy have not had any fund to which they can contribute.
He noted that the 2009 General Convention of The Episcopal Church passed a resolution to build up a pension fund for Cuban clergy, but that the fund has not materialized yet. The MCC has also discussed what it could do to create a separate pension fund, he said, but the council does not have any funds of its own, only what belongs to its respective provinces.
Hiltz said although the resolution calls for the diocese to take steps to return to The Episcopal Church, “this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time for further conversation within the diocesan council, further conversation with the Metropolitan Council.
“Other news from the synod came from the bishop’s charge, in which Hiltz said she reported good progress toward the goals set out in the diocese’s 2014 to 2016 strategic plan, particularly in leadership training. Regional gatherings have attracted good participation from lay people interested in subjects such as Christian education, pastoral care and outreach projects in the community.
Among the things Delgado was really excited about, Hiltz said, was that about 28 lay people have taken extension courses through the seminary in Matanzas.
The development office, established and funded for three years through a shared arrangement between the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and Episcopal Relief and Development, also has 22 projects underway across the diocese, including the restoration of properties and some socio-ecclesial projects focused on the vulnerable. “The bishop is saying [that] the church’s commitment to really work with the community at large is what’s attracting young people to stay engaged with church. They can see the difference the church is making in this community through that farm project or that outreach to provide daycare or this ministry to seniors who are living basically in poverty,” said Hiltz.
He noted that for the first time in his experience, the Metropolitan Council’s report was read to the synod in Spanish. “It made a huge difference in terms of people’s regard for the work of the council, their understanding of the work of the council, because they heard it in their own language.” The report discussed the diocese’s need for money, said Hiltz. An additional $20,000 to $30,000 would allow it to achieve much of its goals, he said. “In some respects, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it is a huge amount of money there, so one of the things the Metropolitan Council has committed to…is exploring a number of funding sources for the church in Cuba.”