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.   

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing this, Mark. The colonial attitude persists, to a degree, in TEC's interactions with other provinces and foreign dioceses. I don't think those with the attitude even realize that it is affecting how they deal with others. This is simply my experience after serving as a missionary in TEC.


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