One Hundred Years: Enough? Talk of autonomy continues... (Part 2 of series on Haiti)

The Church in Haiti has been talking about autonomy for a long time.The idea of an autonomous Episcopal / Anglican community in Haiti has been there from the beginning. So it is no surprise that that in a time of turbulence in Haitian civic and religious life this conversation is being taken up again. It is important to remember that The Anglican / Episcopal presence in Haiti began with an autonomous church.

Autonomy and Bishop Holly:

 Bishop James Theodore Holly lived and worked in Haiti from 1861 until his death in 1911.  His ministry, first as priest and then as bishop of Haiti is the beginning of two Anglican Communion bodies, the first the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti, the second the Diocese of Haiti, part of The Episcopal Church. 

The first - the Orthodox Apostolic Church - represented Holly's vision of a national reformed catholic church in Haiti. It was part of the wider Anglican Communion but distinct from The Episcopal Church whose American racial attitudes were only minimally distinguished from those of the whole American white society

His ordination as a bishop was a singularly important moment in The Episcopal Church's missionary history in that it was the free offering of the historic episcopate to a national church effort in another country. In some ways that gift mirrored the gift given The Episcopal Church by the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Church of England. 

Church and civil politics is always part of the package of history, so it must be observed that ordaining a bishop for an autonomous church avoided the possibility of actually having a black diocesan in the American Church. In 1874 that was not yet on the horizon of possibilities. 

So the non-Roman episcopate in Haiti owes its origins to both positive and negative aspects of mission engagement: it was both generous and color coded.
Holly understood his work to be the establishment of a national church in Haiti, a church (as in the US) for the nation.  In that respect the church under Holly's direction was to a very large extent self governing.  It was not financially autonomous. It was not without wider synodical oversight from abroad. But it was self-governing. 

The Church in Haiti was understood by all concerned to be an independent, autonomous, church, related by concordat to The Episcopal Church.

Holly's missionary stance was formed from several convictions. Mdm Cecile Francois, writing about his work listed the following:

a)    An unshakable faith and total dedication.
b)    A strong emphasis on the Laity
c)    An ecumenical vision of the Church
d)    An evangelism that takes in to account the full range of human life. 
e)    The vision of a self  governing  church.  

The last of these, "the vision of a self-governing church" incorporates something of what we mean by autonomy (it certainly meant a distinct church for the nation of Haiti). Holly did not mean that the Church would be fiscally autonomous, and he did not mean autonomous in any sense of being a "stand alone" bishop divorced from any wider synod.  Holly's vision of autonomy was, as near as I can tell, a matter of building a church of the nation and for the nation, taking in the full realities of life in Haiti. It was autonomous in that its call was to a specific reality that was its own - Haiti.
Autonomy in the period of missionary Bishops:
When after Holly's death, the Orthodox Apostolic Church received and made the Missionary District of Haiti in 1913, the Church in Haiti ceased to be self-governing. Its bishops were chosen by the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, its budget was supervised and funded by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and its direction was set by the missionary principles of the sending church.

During the occupation of Haiti (1914-1934) It was difficult to separate the church headed by an American bishop from the often despised presence of American troops. The sense of dependency that came with being a missionary district was joined with the reality of occupation and the two together depressed the work of the church in Haiti and certainly made the idea of autonomy a distant speculation.

With Bishop Voegeli's episcopate (1943) the idea of autonomy began to reappear as a possibility. Bishop Voegeli began to train up new Haitian leadership, brought the Church back into the cultural life of the Haitian nation, and prepared the church for a realistic assessment of mission actualities and possibilities.

Autonomy and the Haitian Episcopate:
With the election of bishops of Haiti by clergy and lay delegates to a Haitian synod - first Bishop Garnier (1971-1994), and then Bishop Duracin, (1994 to present), and with the strengthening of an effective Standing Committee and other diocesan institutions the matter of self-governance was reintroduced. These Haitian bishops were no longer considered missionary appointments but appointments of the diocese itself, with financial support coming from a variety of sources. During this period the Church in Haiti also began thinking of development as integral to the move towards autonomy, particularly fiscal autonomy.

The episcopate of Bishop Duracin has seen new conversations about the full range of autonomy objectives - self-governing, self-propagating, self-supporting. Self governance has been augmented by increasing levels of self-support, using income from projects with partners, schools and institutions.  The problem of self-propagating has been a stumbling block.

The need for bishops defined by Haitian realities: Bishops, at least as understood in the Episcopal Church, are expensive. They are compensated on a different level than most clergy, they require travel budgets, they expect appropriate housing, they are required to attend meetings of the House of Bishops and General Convention. All of this makes the episcopate a serious expense. Too, the authority of bishops is quite different in dioceses where there are no elected rectors but rather assigned priests, where clergy are diocesan employees, where lay leadership of congregations is quite ordinary, where church income is almost always augmented by attending social institutions (schools, clinics, etc.). Only if the understanding of the bishops role in Haiti is understood in ways significantly different from the US can there be any move forward to a self-propagating church in Haiti. Autonomy is necessary if for no other reason than that the episcopate is differently realized in Haiti and in the US.

The Current Status of Conversations about Autonomy:

There are continuing and new conversations about just how to re-envision autonomy for the Episcopal Church in Haiti, an autonomy that acknowledges its special calling to be the church in that place and at the same time recognizes its interdependence with the wider Communion and with The Episcopal Church. With that comes also a re-visioning of the role of bishop in a continuing missionary church.

Elements of the current discussion of autonomy.

Forming new dioceses: Two years ago the regular synod meeting of the Diocese began to move in this direction by discussions about splitting the diocese into two dioceses. See "Turning Point for Haiti" in the Living Church, Feb 18, 2014.  That effort was seen against the backdrop of the wider hope to expand the episcopate in Haiti to a point where the Haitian episcopate could be self-propagating. 

National Anxieties about outside control: There are parallels to the Haitian national anxiety about relations to the US in the anxieties of the Episcopal Church in Haiti and its relation to The Episcopal Church. In the current turmoil in Haitian political life, US influence and heavy hand are widely understood to be pushing for a political solution that suits American political and economic needs. No wonder then that many Haitian church clergy see the hand of American church interests being imposed on what are understood to be Haitian Church problems. The parallels are hard to miss. The anxiety that accompanies the sense of being manipulated lead rather quickly to the desire to distance from those outside controls.

The current unsettled situation in the diocese. In particular the resolution to the charges brought against Bishop Duracin and now before Title IV panels for consideration, and the call by the Presiding Bishop for greater financial accountability and a temporary halt to fundraising for the rebuilding of the Cathedral are unsettling. They are seen by some of the clergy as efforts by the US Church to manage one of its dioceses in ways that are viewed as colonial and controling and regressive.

Speculation about the trajectory of the case against Bishop Duracin is not helpful. It is what it is, and it will play out its course.  The concerns financial accountability are always appropriate and they are ongoing. That is why there is an officer of the Diocese underwritten by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and Episcopal Relief and Development to work on issues as they arise. Why that is not enough is unclear.

The idea of autonomy, always fueled by the desire to be self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting, becomes more focused when the anxieties that grow from the perception of heavy handed external control arise. So we should not be surprised to hear that there are conversations about autonomy again on the agenda of the Church in Haiti.

There are those who would say that the discussion of autonomy is a reaction to the specifics of this moment in time. That would be a mistake. The discussion of autonomy is ongoing, certainly from the time of union with the General Convention, and those discussion will continue autonomy is achieved. 

Back to the Future:
Perhaps it is time for Holly to land again, for his vision to be taken up.  For this to happen there will need to be generosity of spirit and courageous action exercised by all who love Haiti and the Church.  It will be easy for that vision to become the tool of anxieties and ecclesiastical politics. It will be difficult to have ears to hear and hearts to respond.


The Church in Haiti: One Hundred years as part of The Episcopal Church. Enought? (Part 1)

(This is the first of a three part series on the Episcopal Church of Haiti. Events may outrace some of what is written, but what is here is background, hopefully of some accuracy and use, for whatever transpires.)

The Episcopal Church of Haiti has been part of The Episcopal Church for about 100 years. In 1913 General Convention agreed to make the Church in Haiti, known there as the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Haiti, a missionary district, bringing it into union with the General Convention. In 1915 that work was completed with the full transfer of clergy to the Episcopal Church and the transmittal of properties to the Episcopal Church entity - The Episcopal Church of Haiti.

The Spirit of Missions, a publication of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, published in 1913 this comment about the inclusion of Haiti as a missionary district.
"In making Haiti a new foreign missionary district the convention took action that for a long time has been seen to be inevitable. The history of the Church in the "black republic" has not been without its bright pages; yet it must be admitted that the experiment of an independent Church, with a Negro bishop and Negro clergy, has not proved a success."

The "inevitable" action of General Convention was taken, the DFMS clearly indicated, because the Church in Haiti was seen as an "experiment" in black leadership that was not successful.  

That assessment paralleled the US attitude towards the general Haitian "experiment" in black leadership of a black nation. Haiti was seen as a failed state. Black people, it was apparent, could not lead themselves. Towards the end of the report DFMS stated, 

"Those who know Haiti best believe that the country has a real future. Considerable American capital is being put into railroad and other enterprises. American engineers are pushing their way through jungles and over mountains. Markets are being gradually developed for American goods. If the United States can help to insure internal peace, while it guards Haiti's independence, this much-troubled land of many revolutions may yet work out a worthy national destiny. Certainly it is worthwhile for the Church to do its part in bringing in a better day."

Note the constant reference to "American" engagement. The Church saw its role in support of the general American presence in Haiti.

The DFMS was writing about what was very shortly to take place - the American occupation of Haiti, in order, it was claimed "to insure internal peace." That occupation began in 1914, shortly after this was written. American episcopal occupation began almost immediately with the appointment of episcopal oversight from Puerto Rico and then by appointment of a bishop elected for that purpose by the House of Bishops.

The DFMS article did think about other possibilities:  

"Possibly a better record might have been made had the political life of Haiti been more stable. Possibly the Church in this country should have given a larger measure of fostering care and direction, as was evidently contemplated when, forty years ago, the House of Bishops agreed to consecrate a bishop for Haiti and appointed a commission of bishops to counsel with him."

Still, the report continued, 

"Whatever the difficulties or the errors of the past may have been, or whatever theories may be held in the present about the advisability of putting responsibility on and entrusting complete autonomy to native peoples, the fact remains that the experience of forty years indicates that Haiti is not yet equipped for a self-governing and self-propagating Church. None have realized this more clearly than the most efficient of the Haitian clergy. It was through their influence that the convocation of the Church in Haiti asked the American Church to receive it as a mission. No bishop will be consecrated for the present at least. The new district will be attached to Porto Rico and administered by the bishop having charge of that field.   (Spirit of Missions v.78, 1913)
The report in Spirit of Missions  was quite honest in its assessment: "the experience of forty years indicates that Haiti is not yet equipped for a self-governing and self-propagating Church."

It's assessment was that the failure of the self-governing church was a failure of black leadership, just as the nation as a whole, the "black republic" was a failure as a self-governing state.
Has anything changed in 100 years?  In the eyes of the Episcopal Church, is Haiti any more equipped to be a self-governing and self-propagating Church?

Does the Episcopal Church in the US still consider it inadvisable to "put responsibility on and entrust complete autonomy to native peoples"?   

Does the US essentially consider Haiti as a ward state, a failed state in need of constant supervision from outside?

The history of the Church in Haiti during the time of union with the General Convention has mirrored the general track of The Episcopal Church's engagement with overseas jurisdictions in general. Haiti was first admitted as a missionary district, and later considered a missionary diocese, and in the recent past simply as one of the 107 Dioceses of The Episcopal Church.  

Where once TEC saw itself as an American Church with overseas jurisdictions / dioceses it now considers itself an international church with some dioceses in other countries. The Episcopal Church of Haiti is now considered the largest diocese of The Episcopal Church (TEC) , in terms of population.

 In a number of ways TEC regards the Episcopal Church of Haiti (ECH) a pearl of great price. ECH's membership is larger than the whole of Province IX.  It is an exciting and vibrant church. It is, on one level a great success.  The perception is, however, that that comes with a price - TEC provides an annual grant of some $360,000, and partners with ECH parishes and the diocese as a whole underwrite the costs of much of ECH's program work. So ECH is an expensive dependent child. The pearl has luster, but not depth.

There is a dissonance between ECH as the pearl, and ECH as the costly dependent, and between ECH as a "real" diocese that is self-governing and ECH as a missionary agency of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. 

This dissonance is no where more apparent than in the phrase that accompanies almost all relief and development work in Haiti, by TEC or any other donor agency.  "Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere," begins the explanation of why funds are needed.  And indeed Haiti is poor, and following the 2010 earthquake, even more miserable than usual. But poor is not the same as incompetent, poor is not the same as incapable or failed. Poor is poor. 

In the church that dissonance takes form as the clashing of the two images: the ECH as the largest diocese (which after all assumes some real success in church growth, building, life, ministry, etc.) and ECH as the poorest diocese therefore needing management from outside in the form of projects, grants, and so forth. 

A hundred years of union after union with the General Convention the dissonance noted in the DFMS report of 1913 persists: "The history of the Church in the "black republic" has not been without its bright pages; yet it must be admitted that the experiment of an independent Church, with a Negro bishop and Negro clergy, has not proved a success."

The question now is this: 100 years later, does TEC still feel that the church in Haiti is not ready or able to be self-governing and self-propagating? Put another way and more positively, is Haiti able to be "an autonomous Province in the Anglican Communion"?  Is it time for Haiti to become its own Province, relying of course on partners for program support, but on itself for basic functions as a church (support of clergy and maintenance of congregational community and churches.)

In these 100 years, 60 were years with bishops elected by the House of Bishops, not by the Diocese. They were all white. They were missionary bishops paid directly as DFMS employees. They were elected and then appointed by the Presiding Bishop. There was no "consent" of the governed involved. When they came to Haiti they were a "given." 

In the past 40 years there have been two diocesan bishops and one suffragan bishop elected by the clergy and laity of the diocese. In this period bishops were no longer considered missionaries of TEC, but rather bishops of a jurisdiction elected from within those jurisdictions, and of course later confirmed in election by General Convention or by Bishops and Standing Committees of all the dioceses. Clergy likewise were not longer "hired in the field" workers, but from the late 1980's employees of the Diocese. They were the clergy of the diocese, not agents of the missionary society.

ECH has become increasingly self-governing. Now it would be considered quite strange, and very regressive, for the Standing Committee or Bishop give over their authority to the DFMS on matters of governance, election, and accountability 

What would happen, then, if the ECH were to decide that it was ready to transition into a province of its own? 

Would TEC attempt to exercise a vetoWould TEC, through the DFMS, support such a move?

After all these years, does TEC still believe the Church in Haiti to be a failed experiment, incapable (as yet) of being self-governing? 

These are difficult moments for the Church in Haiti. It's bishop has been accused under Title IV, and that process grinds along. At the same time the Presiding Bishop has put a hold on fund raising for the ECH pending some new agreements on accountability. Bishop Duracin will, under normal circumstances, retire in three years any way. As with any long episcopate there are those who wish he would have retired yesterday and those who hope he will remain until canons require him to retire. So things are a bit tenuous. Clergy are muttering, the administration is a bit shaken, and yet most of church life goes on as usual.

These are difficult times in Haiti anyway: recovery from the earthquake is slow and marred by apparent mismanagement of big money (The Red Cross fiasco being the chief example). Haiti is experiencing political fatigue. It can't seem to elect a president. Meanwhile normal affairs in Haiti stagnate, waiting for leadership change.

The international opinion is growing once again that Haiti is a failed state. The time is ripe for yet more external controls on Haiti. The UN forces and US financial interests will press Haitian leadership to new elections of "safe" known leaders. The fear is that the next round of elections will be so controlled by outside interests that what remains of Haiti's self-governing capacity will be minimal.  

Into this mix the ECH is beginning a difficult conversation: Is it time to affirm its own strengths - its life as a church - and determine its future itself?  There will be a new bishop in Haiti, for one reason or another. The question is how will that bishop be chosen.  Is it time to elect a bishop not for the TEC, who is bishop of Haiti, but a bishop of Haiti not part of TEC

That's the way the work began in Haiti. Bishop Holly was pointedly not ordained as a bishop in the American church. He was to be bishop of a church of Haiti, in communion with the See of Canterbury and with an advisory group of bishops from TEC. But the church was independent then. 

Can it be now? Should it be now?  That is the question.