With the possibility of bankruptcy hanging over the church, Partners in Mission – the church’s international relations arm – considered the unusual question, “Should Partners go out of business?”
It was a top item on the agenda in February at Partners’ regular twice-yearly meeting, held outside Canada for the first time. Fourteen committee members and six staff met in Cuba to assess the present, talk about the future and learn about a Cuban Church that is emerging from trying times.
“Our meetings are always held in Oakville (west of Toronto) and we thought it would be a good idea to have a shared experience of what we are doing overseas, and visit clergy we support,” said Rev. Stuart Pike, who is based in Grimsby, Ont., and chairs the committee.
The committee looked at Partners’ three sections, Africa/Middle East, Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean – and decided travelling to Latin America was most cost-effective, Mr. Pike said. Partners supports several projects in Cuba, including an ecumenical seminary.
The group met at Havana’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, seat of the Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba, and stayed at a nearby dormitory.
“The main thing on our schedule was how we see our work if the church doesn’t survive,” Mr. Pike said. The church has raised the possibility that residential school lawsuits could bankrupt it.
The committee concluded, “We don’t believe God is calling us to abandon international partnerships. We need to find ways to continue,” he said.
Among solutions discussed: continuing Partners in Mission under an agency structure and exploring funding by dioceses.
The Anglican Church in Cuba is tiny – about 20,000 members out of a total population of 11 million, mostly Roman Catholics – but ties with the Canadian church are strong, said Rev. Philip Wadham, regional mission co-ordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Under Fidel Castro, churches were not persecuted, but they were discriminated against, Mr. Pike said. In recent years government attitudes toward religion have relaxed, and relations have improved, Mr. Wadham said.
Out of $300,000 in grants to the Latin America/Caribbean area, Cuba receives about $32,000. Besides a seminary in Matanzas, Partners augments clergy salaries, which are about $10 U.S. per month, and supports diocesan programs, he said.
Noel Chevalier, a committee member from Regina, Sask., called the experience a “mutual exchange” that “kept our focus as a worldwide church.” For him, it was “a chance to meet real people” that was a “transformation personally.”
Rev. Jennifer Gosse of Cartwright, Labrador, visited a woman recently widowed. “She asked us to pray for her. It was amazing to be in a different place and for your faith to bring people together.”
Judy Berinai, who is from Malaysia and the committee’s international partner, called the trip “enriching ? I can identify with some of the things in Cuba.”