With the renewal of almost "normal" relations between Cuba and the US there has been renewed interest in the Episcopal Church of Cuba becoming again a diocese in The Episcopal Church.
By a very narrow, and somewhat confused vote, the synod of the Church in Cuba decided to request to join again The Episcopal Church. That of course has to be further explored, the mandate widened, and conversations begun with General Convention. We can look forward to greater conversations with the Episcopal Church in Cuba about all this, but it will take a while.
While it is tempting to think this is all wonderful, and great that Cuba can again be part of TEC's life, we ought to exercise some care in the matter. And not only us, but The Church in Cuba as well.
The presence of The Episcopal Church in Cuba began in the mid 1800's with missionaries from the US. Following the Spanish American War the work was established as a missionary district with episcopal leadership elected for Cuba by the House of Bishops in The Episcopal Church. Bishops Albion Knight, Hiram Richard Hulse, Hugo Blankingship, Romualdo Gonzalez are listed as members of the House of Bishops serving as bishop of Cuba. Following the break in relations between the US and Cuba, and under the supervision of a Metropolitan Council, the church in Cuba, under difficult circumstances was able finally to elect a diocesan bishop who is now in place. She is Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio.
It is unclear just how strong the desire to become part of the Episcopal Church is. The church in Cuba has a long history of internal division an no one wants those divisions to reemerge as this decision is made. Hopefully there will be members of the Church in Cuba attending General Convention this year and they can fill us in further on their thinking.
At any event it seems a declaration of intent might come forward this year, with the next three years as a time to develop further the possibility of re-incorporation into The Episcopal Church.
There remains, however, an important matter which only the Cuban Church can determine. Was the separation from the Episcopal Church, with continued good relations and engagement between the churches in fact a blessing in disguise? Does the Church in Cuba have anything to gain from becoming part of TEC, when TEC is almost entirely preoccupied with matters internal to The United States and to TEC as an entity in The United States? And is there any hope that TEC will not act towards the church in Cuba very much as it does with other churches in Latin America and the Carribean that are members of TEC? Because these overseas jurisdictions receive substantial grants from TEC they ministry and work subject to review. TEC in its review efforts sometimes moves from matters of proper spending of the funds granted to matters of mission and program, from audit to intervention. When TEC, by way of General Convention, Executive Council or Staff action, intervenes, the results echo earlier more forceful imperialist attitudes.
Why would Cuba want to return to being an outpost of an American Church, rather than the presence of its own unique ministry and life. Granted the Church in Cuba was part of TEC in the past, but it was here as a missionary district and missionary diocese with bishops elected by our House of Bishops and funds directed to ends determined by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. In the present we have moved away of such obvious imperial presence, but there are plenty of examples of TEC continuing to exercise a controlling interest in matters internal to the dioceses, in ways that would not be tolerated if those dioceses were in the US.
Does the Church in Cuba need to question TEC about what the matter of organic union might entail? I think it does. My sense is if the Church in Cuba were to become a diocese in TEC again it needs to do so with specific understandings regarding a variety of issues regarding mission and ministry. I believe we in TEC need to carry those talks forward as well.