I recently took part in a visit to Seminario Evangélico de Teología with a delegation from the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. The seminary invited my bishop, Robert Wright, to teach a course on Jesus and Leadership. Lay and clergy representatives from our diocesan global missions commission and several Hispanic congregations joined him – 1 deacon, 2 lay leaders, and 7 priests – a team representing all four orders of ministry.
In addition to the class at the seminary, we visited 7 Episcopal churches and learned about their ministries:
- Catedral de La Santísima Trinidad, Havana (Cathedral of the Holy Trinity)
- San Felipe Diácono, Limonar (St. Philip the Deacon)
- San Juan Evangelista, Coliseo (St. John Evangelist)
- Trinidad, Los Arabos (Trinity)
- Cristo Rey, Cuatro Esquinas (Christ the King)
- San Franciso de Asís, Cárdenas (St. Francis of Assisi)
- Fieles a Jesús, Matanzas (Faithful to Jesus – perhaps my favorite church name ever, so named because this is the oldest non-Roman church on the island. The founders wanted a name that would distinguish it from the Roman Catholic Church).
The Episcopal Church of Cuba today includes 40+ parishes and missions and around 30 clergy. Worship everywhere we visited is according to the Spanish language translation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Many congregations meet in lovely church buildings (like the Cathedral, above). All are very involved with their communities. Most are very small (ASA 20 – 40). A few are larger (ASA 80 – 100).
They are like many churches in the US.
Except . . . This is Cuba, an island nation that endured colonialism, dictatorship, Marxist social revolution, a continuing US embargo, and a “special period” (Fidel Castro’s term) of economic hardship in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
And yet, the church endured. It endured a long season in which being Christian meant being denied access to certain careers and opportunities. It endured a rapidly changing economic system that provides for some needs (education, health care) but not others (clean water, transportation, internet). It continues to endure “extra-provincial” status within the Anglican Communion when The Episcopal Church backed away from Cuba due to complications of the US economic embargo.
These Episcopal Christians are still here. They are like the cars a few are fortunate to drive in Cuba – classic models held together by hard work, repaired with invented parts, and polished with love.
Churches in Cuba have survived by inventing new ways to keep going. As a result, in some ways, they seem stronger than churches in the US, where faith is easier but perhaps less valued. They have much to teach. They have already taught me much about being the Church in a rapidly changing world.