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

(This is the second 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 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 until 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.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, Mark. It would seem to me, too, that Haiti has more than one option. (Note: this is just a thought experiment, as it were. I do agree that any choice needs to be a Haitian decision.) What would it look like if:
    - Haiti were to be a separate national church in the Communion?
    - Haiti continued in the Episcopal Church, but participated in Province IX instead of Province II?
    - Haiti determined to be a diocese of the Province of the West Indies, or of IARCA?

    I live in an area (impacting two dioceses), and actually serve in an institution, where there is strong support for specific institutions in the Diocese of Haiti. While accountability is an issue, I am not seeing any flagging of concern or enthusiasm for those ministries. I can't imagine that the concern or enthusiasm would be adversely affected by a decision of Haitian Episcopalians to change status relative to the General Convention.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.