The Anglican Communion’s Director for Mission, the Revd Canon John Kafwanka, reflects on his recent visit to the Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba - the Episcopal Church of Cuba.
Many Anglicans and Episcopalians know about Cuba, and know it as a Communist country; but I don’t think many of them know that there is an Anglican Church in Cuba, and if they do they probably know very little about the life and ministry of the Church.
The Episcopal Diocese in Cuba is one of those places where very little if any of what goes on there is reported or known in the Anglican Communion, and yet it is a Church that is mission focused, with a strong sense of purpose and confidence in the Gospel, very strong community engagement, and a (w)holistic outlook to mission, taking seriously all the Five Marks of Mission in mission and ministry.
My recent visit to Cuba has been a real revelation as well as enriching. There was so much to experience in the life of the Church that I kept asking myself, “Why have we not heard of all these many inspiring ways the Episcopalians in Cuba live out their faith in Jesus Christ?”
Many congregations engage with communities in all sorts of ways, including water purification projects that provide clean water to surrounding communities; agricultural programmes that enable communities to engage in sustainable agricultural methods and guarantees food security; support for elderly members of the community with food and clean water supply; savings projects that support communities to generate their income to sustain their family needs; environmental care activities; and youth programmes to support and develop skills and talents among children and young people in craft, music, visual and expressive art.
I must underline the point that these activities are not seen as “projects” but as ways members of the Church live out their faith and the love of Jesus in their communities. This is especially exemplified by a one middle-aged woman known as Martha at Holy Trinity Church. Martha wakes up every morning at 6.00 am and goes to collect empty containers from the elderly members of the community, fills them with purified water at the purification plant behind the Church and have them delivered back to owners. Martha also ensures that the responsible local government department delivers water to the purification plant on time.
Martha enjoys what she does and finds great fulfilment in serving her community. Martha does not see herself as a “volunteer” but as a member of the Church community that exists to express the faith in Jesus in everyday life, and in ways that has impact on the community.
This was beautifully summed by the Revd Juan Carlos from Holy Trinity Church who said "We are here to love the people in the community; all that we do we think of the community."
This sort of story was repeated in other congregations I visited, and each of these stories have very telling results behind them.
For instance, St Luke’s Church in the eastern part of the country is a church that not many members of the community knew about. A story is told of how seven years ago a visitor who was looking for St Luke’s Church asked local people to direct him to the church, but no one knew where it was. Today, a person looking for St Luke’s is asked by members of that community if he or she was looking for the Church “that provides support to the elderly, that which distributes clean water in the community, that which has lots of young people”, and so forth.
Now, St Luke’s Church draws people from the community to participate in the various social and community engagements the church undertakes. People in the community provide security against vandalism to the church infrastructure because of what the Church symbolises in that community – it is their church.
I also learnt that the youth Hands programme at Holy Trinity Church has been so successful that parents of children involved in the activities have made strong connection with the church and that some of them have even become members and become involved in the various church activities.
Performance by children and young people involved in expressive art started to attract people in the community, and due to public demand plays are repeated, and have had to move to a community hall, which is bigger and able to accommodate the growing interest from the community.
All these developments have happened under the stable, positive and confident leadership of Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio, whose passion is to see a Church that has vocation for all God’s people and at every level of membership.
After more than 50 years of separation, the Episcopal Church in Cuba is to become a diocese of The Episcopal Church following the passing of a motion at the US-based Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2018.
Without a doubt the Episcopal Church in Cuba has a lot to gain from being a member of the Province, and has a lot offer to offer in return, not just to TEC but also to the Anglican Communion more widely.
Mine has been a privilege and honour to visit Cuba and thanks to Archbishop Fred Hiltz and the Anglican Church of Canada for facilitating the “come and see” invitation and the trip itself.