Visitors who know Cuba only as a vacation spot might think about venturing further than its pristine beaches and actually get to know its people. Photo: Andrea Mann
God is looking at this with good eyes.
The Rev. Aurelio Bernabe de la Paz Cot, priest of the parishes of Cespede and Florida, Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba, used these words at a recent diocesan synod to describe the transformation of his Church’s liturgical musicianship over the past five years.
What began with seeking God’s guidance in music making and evangelism has resulted in an annual national music festival bringing choirs, bands, and soloists together for concerts, composition, prayer and praise. All are welcome and many come from every denomination and social sector to enjoy, learn and seek Christ.
God looking at Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba with good eyes brings to mind many moments and people encountered in northern central Cuba while recently travelling with Cuba’s Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio, Anglican Church of Canada’s Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, General Secretary Michael Pollesel, and others.
It was a privilege and pleasure to visit small and large parishes, speak with clergy and lay leaders, listen to the dreams of church moving forward into an unknown future with prayerful conviction and enthusiasm.
In Bermeja, the parish of St. Trinidad, having faithfully attended to the needs of local families through years of deprivation, prays actively for the arrival of mortar and wages to begin rebuilding a sanctuary and Sunday school now too small and in disrepair.
The parish of St. Mary the Virgin, Itabo, carries within its banana grove, raised beds, seed oil compressor and pantry the promise and prosperity of community self-reliance. The parish’s catechist and lay leaders, through their ministries of hospitality, community leadership, and food security exude what is possible by God’s grace when the land is restored and cultivated in sustainable ways. New mission areas are taking root as Itabo farmers and town dwellers attending parish workshops like what they see.
The parish of St. John the Baptist, Florencia, is actively restoring a nearby sister parish, The Church of the Good Shepherd, Perea. In both congregations, the priest’s keen interest in iconography is shaping the use of this sacred art in worship.
Cuba, known to many Canadians as a warm, seaside respite from winter back home, is also a large, underdeveloped agricultural country. Its compelling beauty and diversity of people, religions, land and culture brim with passion and possibility. North Americans who know only Cuba only as a vacation destination might think about venturing further than its pristine beaches, waterfront resorts and Old Havana, as lovely as these are.
The Episcopal Church of Cuba hosts weekly Sunday worship and weekday prayers. Church members are keen to meet visitors in conversations about mission and outreach, liturgical revision and evangelism. Time and again, when traveling in Havana and in the interior, we were asked: Tell your people to come; your youth groups, clergy, musicians and seminary faculty. We miss you. We welcome you. Come with your gifts and skills and enthusiasm for praising God through worship, song, and mission. We face many challenges. We cannot do what is needed on our own. We must work together. Solidarity, companionship, being one with another in Christ will accomplish what must be done.
Toward achieving “what must be done” the Episcopal Church of Cuba at its annual Synod in February unanimously passed a Strategic Mission Plan containing major development areas, strategic directions and detailed implementation schedules.
Of critical importance in implementing the plan is the creation of a stable, reliable funding base over the next three years. “We have human and material resources, and local opportunities for skills training. What we really need is funding” for mission and for the upgrading of church infrastructure. Communications and information technologies, the restoration of parish buildings and properties, and transportation – the church’s “hardware” for mission- is sadly out of date or out of service.
An equally important mission priority is strengthening the knowledge and skills of clergy and laity for community-based ministry, including training for social analysis, project proposal development and local leadership. “Mission begins with people, where they are with various needs, interests and skills led by trained, capable clergy and lay leaders”.
Other mission priorities include:
· Advanced scholarship and academic leadership at Seminario Evangelico de Teologia (SET), Matanzas;
· Reaching Cuban youth with Christian alternatives to materialism and secularism;
· Annual Music Festival (August 1-7)
· Annual Youth Camp (August 9-15)
It is Bishop Griselda’s intention to work toward the accomplishment of these goals with Cubans who work for liberty, mutuality and community irrespective of denominational or faith tradition, or government affiliation. She also seeks to broaden and deepen her church’s regional and international mission and development partners, with a sincere and humble thank you to all who have accompanied the Episcopal Church of Cuba for many years.
The Anglican Church of Canada is recognized as an especially close companion. Mutual and abiding friendship has been nurtured through the leadership of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba chaired by the Canadian Primate, through generous and reciprocal hospitality with parishes and people of the Diocese of Niagara, and through national Partnerships programs such as Volunteers in Mission, scholarships and grants in support of academic development, youth ministry and clergy stipends.
It is an exciting time for the Episcopal Church of Cuba. God is looking at this with good eyes.
Let us pray for Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio and with her, and the whole diocese as it works to implement its Strategic Mission Plan, its witness and love for Christ through proclamation, education, loving service, transformational leadership and safeguarding the integrity of creation and renewal of earth.
— Andrea Mann is Global Relations Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod.