‘There will always be a relationship between our church and Cuba’

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Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, with Griselda Delgado del Carpio, bishop of the Episcopal Church of Cuba, during a visit by Hiltz to Cuba in February 2016. Photo: Andrea Mann

The Anglican Church of Canada will continue to have some sort of a relationship with the church in Cuba even if—as appears likely—it becomes a diocese of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church (TEC), says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

TEC’s General Convention is expected to vote this July on a resolution to reintegrate the Episcopal Church in Cuba after the Cuban church voted to return to TEC three years ago. The resolution, drafted by a task force on reintegration set up by TEC and composed of members both of the Episcopal and the Cuban church, seems likely to pass, Hiltz said in an interview Monday, March 5.

“I think all the indicators are that the task force…are supporting—and wholeheartedly supporting—the reintegration, and the resolution that they’ve drafted, which has several parts, speaks very clearly of wanting to move ahead with this,” said Hiltz, who attended the Cuban church’s annual synod February 23-25. “Like any resolution, there’s never a guarantee that it’s going to pass; I’m anticipating it will pass.”

In the meantime, TEC has already been taking measures to prepare for the possible return to it of the Cuban church, Hiltz said. There’s discussion, for example, within TEC on providing financial assistance to the Cuban church in the form of “block grants,” which the U.S.-based church provides to dioceses in need. TEC is also planning to put together a working group tasked with “seeing the transition through as smoothly and effectively as possible,” he said.

The Cuban church was founded as a missionary diocese of TEC in 1901, but relations between Cuba and the United States worsened after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and travel and communication between the two countries became difficult. In 1967, the Cuban diocese became “extra provincial,” outside of the structure of TEC. A new body, the Metropolitan Council of Cuba—consisting of the primate of the West Indies, the presiding bishop of TEC and the primate of Canada, the council’s chairperson—was set up to the guide the Cuban church “in matters of faith and order.”

The Anglican Church of Canada has continued to have a close relationship with the Episcopal Church in Cuba ever since; the Cuban church’s diocesan council has said the Anglican Church of Canada “was like a mother who held the church in Cuba in her arms,” Hiltz said.

In financial terms, the Canadian church’s support for the Episcopal Church in Cuba has a core budget of $65,000 each year, said Andrea Mann, the Anglican Church of Canada’s director of global relations. The money is used for a number of purposes, including topping up stipends to Cuban clergy; helping the Cuban church support an ecumenical seminary in Matanzas; the distance education of theological students; and youth Christian education, she said.

The Canadian church also provides funding in response to special requests, such as urgently-needed church repair, said Mann.

If the Episcopal Church in Cuba becomes once more a diocese of TEC, responsibility for supporting this type of work would pass from the Anglican Church of Canada to TEC, Hiltz said.

Discussions now going on within TEC about future block grants to the Cuban church, Hiltz said, are a sign of TEC’s commitment to support it if it becomes once more a diocese of the U.S.-based church. Nevertheless, there’s some anxiety amongst members of the Cuban church about how the change will affect its relationship with the Canadian church.

“There’s a kind of a mix of emotion—there’s a great sense of anticipation about being reintegrated into TEC, and they can see some of the advantages of that,” he said. At the same time, he said, many members of the Cuban church are “a little anxious about this relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada because, as they will say themselves, the Anglican Church of Canada accompanied them for so long.”

Still, Hiltz said, no matter what decision is made about the Episcopal Church in Cuba this summer, some connection with the Anglican Church of Canada will remain.

“There will always be a relationship between our church and Cuba,” he said.

The Canadian church, Mann said, is in the process of working out precisely how it will collaborate with the Cuban church in the future. The question is complicated, she said, by the fact that if the Cuban church rejoins TEC, it will be a diocese that is part of a province, and normally provinces of the Anglican Communion deal with other provinces, not with dioceses. But it’s possible that the Anglican Church of Canada will continue to partner with a future diocese of Cuba in areas such as eradicating human trafficking and slavery, and in providing theological formation and continuing education for Cuban clergy, Mann said.

As the Anglican Church of Canada prepares for this change in its relationship with the Cuban church, its relationship with the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil is continuing to develop, Hiltz and Mann said. This spring, she said, she and Linda Nicholls, bishop of Huron, will be travelling to Brazil to attend the synod of the Brazilian church, with the goal of learning more about the ministries that the two churches could partner on. (Nicholls will also be visiting Brazil in April to attend the consecration of Canon Marinez Santos Bassotto as bishop of Amazonia—the Brazilian church’s first female bishop.)

Hiltz also said he had begun to prepare for a meeting he will be hosting of primates from the Americas and the Caribbean, scheduled for November 2018. The meeting, announced in a reflection released last October, is one of a series of regional meetings of primates that will take place across the Anglican Communion in advance of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is expected to attend the meeting, which will take place in Toronto, Hiltz said.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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