Richmond Hill, Ont.,
Despite the fact that the Episcopal diocese of Cuba has been in limbo for half a century, new signs of growth are sprouting up across the island nation, diocesan Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio told the members of General Synod in her July 8 address.
Speaking through an interpreter, Delgado painted a picture of a diocese that is using everything at hand to rebuild a church that for decades has struggled to survive against tremendous odds-and that is now starting to see the work pay off.
Delgado, who has spearheaded a new direction for the church since her consecration in 2010, reported that in the last triennium alone, two vocational deacons and five transitional deacons have been ordained, and eight new churches consecrated-significant numbers in a diocese where, according to Delgado, only 24 priests serve around 6,000 Anglicans.
The key, Delgado said, has been meeting the people where their needs are greatest. In a country where poverty is rampant and food security a major issue, this means meeting them on the most basic level.
“We’ve been working strongly with themes of values, social justice and the history of the church,” Delgado explained, “and we’ve been working with vulnerable people in the community-for example, with the very aged, those with disabilities [and] the very aged.”
Although the Anglican presence in Cuba has historically been quite small, Delgado said their justice work has raised their profile among Cubans.
“In the secular culture in Cuba, the church is now very visible because of the community projects we are engaged in,” she said.
Delgado was joined by José Bringas, director of the Cuban church’s office of development and mission, who spoke (also through an interpreter) to General Synod in greater detail about the diocese’s current development work.
Bringas reiterated Delgado’s point that in Cuba, evangelism and development go hand in hand. He explained that the diocesan strategy starts with the assumption that mission is sustainable only if it is rooted in local leadership and local communities, which is why they have been working to raise up new lay and clergy leaders.
“One of the principles that we believe in is that the funds and the ability happen where there is need, and where the project will continue,” he said. “Capacity has to be developed locally to enable the project to continue.”
Delgado acknowledged that the Canadian church had an important role to play in what Cuba has been able to accomplish.
The churches have had a special relationship since the U.S. embargo forced the Cuban church, which had up until then been a diocese of The Episcopal Church (TEC), to become an autonomous diocese.
Through the Metropolitan Council of Cuba (MCC), which is chaired by the primate of the Canadian Anglican church, Canada has long provided financial aid and spiritual support for Anglicans in Cuba. The MCC includes representatives from Cuba, TEC and the Church of the Province of the West Indies.
But as geopolitical changes open up the possibility for Cuba to return to its parent church in the U.S., Delgado said she hopes the partnership between Anglicans in Cuba and Canada will grow rather than diminish.
“We want to continue to look at ways in which we will continue to co-operate and be in relationship in creative ways with the Anglican Church of Canada,” Delgado said. “This relationship has given us strength and it has deepened.”
A task force that includes Cubans, Americans and a Canadian has been formed to look at what a reunion between Cuba and the U.S. would mean, but it will not begin its work in earnest until fall 2016.