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.   


Meeting Behind Closed Doors: Bummer.

The Living Church published a disturbing piece on the frequent use of closed door sessions at the recent Executive Council meeting. Read it HERE.

I was particularly struck by the following: 

"When committees met in the afternoon, six more topics were deemed inappropriate for discussion in open session. Four of them arose in the World Missions Committee, although only three were identified prior to closing the doors.

“I do think that Cuba, the Mexico Covenant discussion, and the Province IX sustainability plan, including the recent Province IX council meeting and the appointment of the task force — I do think those are more sensitive,” said World Missions Committee Chair Karen Longenecker of the Diocese of Rio Grande. “I do think it’s a good idea to go into executive session.”

The session remained closed for three hours as the committee addressed those topics as well as one that wasn’t announced. Executive Council’s bylaws require topics of discussion to be disclosed prior to entering executive session."

The reporter for TLC listed what the Chair gave as the topics to be covered. It is hard to tell if there were three, one with inclusions, or four. But in either event the reporter believes there was another topic raised. One wonders just what that was.

The fact that matters are "sensitive" is not sufficient reason for the discussion in committees to be in executive session.  Some subjects may very well be controversial, alarming, confusing or otherwise difficult, but that is no reason for them to be discussed behind closed doors. In fact just the opposite. 

Very few of us not on Council have any sense of what happens there except insofar as reports come from members of Council itself or from observers. It is important to some of us that we have a sense of what it is that Executive Council is discussing. Effectively no one outside Executive Council has any idea what the World Mission Committee is discussing re Cuba, Mexico or Province IX. More, it seems that a different topic, the subject itself not announced, was taken up. Where did that information come from, and why wasn't the source able to say what the topic was?

So what the hell is going on here? Closed sessions breed suspicion, not clarity. 

Apparently Executive Council has come to the conclusion that its business is its business only, and not the business of the whole church. Apparently EC believes we outsiders don't need to know what they are thinking, talking about, or doing. 

They are wrong. 

Bishops in the Episcopal Church of Haiti

Bishop Oge Beauvoir, Suffragan Bishop in Haiti, has been on leave from the Diocese of Haiti and is the Executive Director of Food for the Poor in Haiti. He took his new post in May of 2015. His position as Suffragan Bishop was effectively vacated. Bishop Beauvoir is not on the staff of the Diocese nor engaged in ministry within the diocese. Leave was granted by the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese.

It is now a year since his becoming Executive Director of FFP in Haiti. The Diocese has renewed the leave of absence. The question then is, what is his standing in the House of Bishops? In the Diocese of Haiti?  At what point does the position of suffragan no longer exist?

The Episcopal Church of Haiti (not the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti) is the current form of the church envisioned by Bishop Holly and confirmed in the concordat between the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the convocation of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Haiti in 1874. That  Church, the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Haiti became, on admission as a missionary district in 1914 a diocese in the Episcopal Church. It’s name is “The Episcopal Church of Haiti.”  It continues to hold the vision of a national Episcopal and Anglican church of Haiti. 

In spite of the catastrophic effects of the earthquake and  continuing civil discord,  the Episcopal Church of Haiti continues to grow and expand its ministry and holds the vision of Bishop Holly – the vision of an autonomous national Haitian Apostolic and Orthodox Church, part of the Anglican Communion.

The original concordat with PECUSA stipulated that Haiti would be given episcopal supervision by a board of four bishops from PECUSA until such time as it had three active bishops in Haiti, at which time the Episcopal Church of Haiti (by whatever name) could constitute its own body of bishops and continue apostolic orders as an autonomous church.  That hope remains, and the ECH, now some 90,000 strong, stands poised to take new steps towards autonomy.

The Episcopal Church of Haiti came very close to presenting a resolution to the 2015 General Convention to divide into several dioceses so that it might better serve the people of Haiti. It will surely do so in the future. 

In looking to the immediate and future development of the episcopate in the ECH it is important that the status of bishops in Haiti be clear.  At this time there is, it would appear, only one active bishop in Haiti, that is the diocesan, The Rt. Rev. Jean-Zaché Duracin. Now 69, he will reach mandatory retirement age in three years.


Red Cross bungles Haiti Relief: And who else? What about Episcopal aid?

NPR has just published its investigation of the Red Cross in Haiti. Titled, "Report: Red Cross Spent 25 Percent Of Haiti Donations On Internal Expenses,"it says this: "The American Red Cross spent a quarter of the money people donated after the 2010 Haiti earthquake — or almost $125 million — on its own internal expenses, far more than the charity previously had disclosed, according to a report released Thursday by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley." $125 million. That's a lot of money. This does not include the fact that the Red Cross farmed out much of its work to other agencies who in turn took more than 10 percent of what was received for overhead.

This scandal has been brewing for some time. Last year there was a preliminary report on this, and in Haiti there has been a good deal of criticism of the Red Cross and other relief agencies and the misdirection of funds.

Here in Anglican and Episcopal land it is time to raise a parallel concern.  Monies were raise for the effort to "rebuild our church in Haiti," primarily to build a new Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Monies were also raised to support Episcopal Relief and Development and its work in Haiti. 

How much has been raised in these efforts and how has the money been spent?   What percentage of the funds raised have gone for overhead and supervision? 

Looking on the web I find that Episcopal Relief and Development has pages that are generally informative and  up to date. But it's hard to find the numbers about money raised for, earmarked, and spent in Haiti. Perhaps Episcopal Relief and Development will be able to give a better sense of that.

It is less clear just how much money has been raised for the rebuilding of the Cathedral. The website, "Haiti: More than a Cathedral" has its last post / report about a year ago, indicating that the Cathedral site was being cleared. I can't find any record or indication of the monies raised for this effort, but there is a list of dioceses and parishes that have contributed (refreshed when?)

In the past I have been told that exact numbers are not made public because to do so might present a danger to diocesan official "on the ground" in Haiti.

The problem is that not knowing how much was specifically raised and specifically spent for Haitian efforts by either Episcopal Relief and Development or the "Haiti: More than a Cathedral" effort raises questions of accountability.

At the very least there needs to be some sort of commissioned audit of both Church Center and Episcopal Relief and Development fundraising to indicate what percent of what was raise was spent in overhead, staff and related expenses and how much was made available for direct services, projects and efforts in Haiti.  Without revealing information that would be dangerous, that report could reassure those of us who have given to Haiti relief and the rebuilding of the Cathedral and other projects that our monies have been handled carefully and well. That report might also explore just how much can reported about specific amounts actually expended in grants and overhead.  As it is, donors (of which I am one) have received no information about how our monies are used.

Good but vague reports from ERD and a year old note on the Episcopal Church website about clearing the site are not enough.  

As with many things done by The Episcopal Church in regard to the Episcopal Church of Haiti there are is the odor of paternalism and the old "missionary diocese" model. It is unclear to me that the leadership of The Episcopal Church of Haiti was really consulted  (as opposed to talked to) on the matter of what sort of help they would be offered following the earthquake. 

They were offered a suffragan bishop, they were offered something that would "sell well," namely a new cathedral, they were offered funding provided it was supervised by outside agencies as the primary authority on just what was going to be done. And, as often happens with groups in great need, the offers that are made are the only ones on the table, and that being the case, it seems better to accept than reject them.

But the thing is, the Episcopal Church of Haiti has a life of its own, and the call for accountability is different from the call for outside control and decision making. Perhaps the real problem is that the Episcopal Church of Haiti, in its suffering, confused expectations to take over for offers of help.

When The Orthodox Anglican Church of Haiti asked to become a missionary jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church, after the death of its bishop, Bishop Holly, it gave up its right to determine its own future. For almost sixty years following union with TEC, The Episcopal Church of Haiti had white American missionary bishops. And now there have been two diocesans who are Haitian, and both of these have had to sing for their supper. 

Perhaps it would have been better not to have joined with TEC at all.  Maybe there could have been aid without the strings attached. Maybe, had the conversation gone differently, there might have been a new concordat replacing the old, by which there was a relation with TEC, but not one of organic union in which Haiti was seen as a missionary district or diocese, but rather as a sister church in need of long term relationship. 

Had there been any idea of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence, we might have seen a church in Haiti that would over time, and in accord with an established set of goals, moved to become autonomous.

As it is The Episcopal Church of Haiti remains a colonial, paternal, mission society child, while at the same time being one of the largest Diocese of Episcopalians in the Church.

It is time for TEC to revisit the concordat that first existed with the Church of Haiti, and to revisit the vision of an Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti, part of the Anglican Communion, with its own governance and historic episcopate. And it is time to get clear about how Episcopal aid for Haiti works out on the ground.