The Future of the Episcopal Church of Haiti and the Case for Autonomy (revised)

This essay joins as a single essay the three previous essays on Haiti and Autonomy. As a single whole the reader can more easily follow the argument for bringing forward the question of autonomy at this crucial time in the life of the Episcopal Church of Haiti. The matter is complex and I am sure elements are missing, but I have tried to stay true to conversations with Haitian colleagues in ministry held over fifty years in and out of Haiti. ( I have modified in small part the reposting of these blog entries because of important and interesting critique by some of the leadership of TEC. So this is a modification of my earlier posts. It goes without saying that this essay is my opinion only, and not that of any of the parties involved. MH

Part 1: The Church in Haiti: One Hundred years as part of The Episcopal Church. Is it time to leave?

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 US saw the Haitian nation as a whole, the "black republic," 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. 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. 

The Pearl of Great Price:

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 block 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. They were, and are, TEC Bishops, Haitian and in Haiti, but TEC Bishops.  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 veto?  Would 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 civil 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?  Or perhaps Haitian, for Haiti, but in some sort of concordat with TEC, such that the Haitian Episcopate does not conform in all aspects to the Episcopate as understood in TEC itself.

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.  

 Part 2:  Talk of autonomy is always on the agenda.

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. This mixed message was compounded by the American bishop in Haiti also being charged with the pastoral care of the occupation 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 in Haiti has been marked by several monarchical tendencies: The Bishop appoints all clergy to their posts. There are no rectors elected by parishes. Pastors are assigned. This is in part because all clergy are paid through the Diocese, and in part because under the American Bishops there was an effort to break up the power of clergy ordained from particular families and holding highly independent local fiefdoms. The power of the bishop to control the assignment of clergy and the use of funds in their support has been both an important missionary strategy and a difficulty, giving great power to the Bishop.

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 involved greater clergy and lay engagement in governance, along with the Bishop. 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. Proposals for such an expansion have not been realized, but at least they have been explored.
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 controlling and regressive. By others the seeming interventions are viewed as supportive of their own view that a change in episcopal leadership is needed immediately.

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 at least for a time by 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.

Part 3:  Autonomy for the Episcopal Church of Haiti: The Haitian Episcopate and Haitian Bishops

Of all the issues surrounding autonomy for the Church of Haiti the most difficult to approach concerns money. The Episcopal Church of Haiti receives about $350.000 a year from The Episcopal Church as a block grant. The funds are there for the use of the ECH as it deems necessary. It is interesting that that amount - $350,000 - roughly covers the cost of the episcopte itself and the pension payments for all the clergy of the diocese.

 ECH receives many thousands of dollars from parishes and dioceses in support of local and national projects.  While there is no reason to believe that support would suddenly disappear if the ECH became autonomous the question gets asked, “How could Haiti afford to become autonomous? They already need our support just to exist.” Some of that support is being held back or withdrawn because of distrust in the way in which the parishes and the diocese manage those funds, and in particular because the bishop apparently insists on a level of personal control or management of funds that come in for projects.

The question "how could Haiti afford to become autonomous" gets asked even though the autonomy of Provinces in the Anglican Communion is not dependent on the Province being self-supporting. Many Provinces rely upon a combination of grants from other provinces, income producing properties and projects (schools, rental properties, etc.), and clergy who take on secular work to supplement salaries.  Autonomy begins with self -government (local synods of bishops, clergy and people) and self-propagation (sufficient bishops and dioceses to constitute a synod). Self-supporting Provinces often rely upon the patrimony of built up investments and properties rather than total immediate support from congregations and dioceses. So the matter of financial autonomy is a complex one.

Haiti however is subjected to great suspicion concerning self-support. Those suspicions come from several directions and quickly become stereotypes. It is painful to suggest that TEC or other Provinces view Haiti, Haitians and the Episcopal Church of Haiti with these stereotypes of suspicion in mind, but we need to look carefully at the burden that Haiti carries regarding judgement from the “giving” churches in the Communion.

Losing Hats and everything else in Haiti:

Fred Astaire “lost his hat in Haiti.”  That’s the song from the musical “Royal Wedding” in 1951. Paul Eugène Magloire was President of Haiti then.   

The collapse of his regime gave rise in turn to the movements that brought Francois Duvalier to the presidency, and then to presidency for life, and eventually Duvalierism without Duvalier, a condition that still haunts Haiti. Most people in the US see the Haiti of dictators, corrupt and inept government and exotic and seemingly primitive religious behavior.

Fred could dance away and be lost along with his hat in the fogged memory of a Haiti that did not exist then and does not exist now.   He lost his hat in Haiti, but so many others lost not only their hat, but their whole working ensemble, some even the corporeal frame on which to place the clothes. Existence is sometimes raw in Haiti.

Haiti strips naked the best laid plans of all those who attempt to control her from within or without. Every foreign power, and every internal power that is not finally of the people, find their plans crushed. Dictators and benefactors from in or outside have come to the same realization: Haiti is not in their control. This is true in civil society, and it is true in the ecclesial spheres as well.  Haiti is not a horse ridden by civil or religious masters, it is ridden by the spirits of the mass of poor people, and the spirits of the ancestors. But that does not mean that civil and religious leaders internal and external to Haiti don’t try to control. They do.

The Control of Haiti the poor:

Of late, say since the Second World War, Haiti has increasingly been understood as exotic, slightly mad, mean and dangerous, and most assuredly poor. “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” the saying goes.  And that, for purposes of control, defines Haiti. 

Internally the poor are used as a touchstone for the justification of this or that political person or party. Dealing with Haiti as poor becomes the major common working basis for all political, economic and religious discussion. Every campaign, political, social or religious, begins with the premise that Haiti is poor and only a savior can do something about it.

Externally the poor are both the object of attention and the reason for being for a wide variety of “helping agencies” and the justification for outside government takeovers. Sometime such actions internally and externally are justified, but mostly they are self-justifying. Sending in the Marines and sending in missionaries in large numbers are both finally efforts to control Haiti. Of course they are also efforts to serve Haiti and the Haitian people. But finally the control of the effort is in the hands of the benefactors, and should they feel slighted, or cheated, or taken advantage of, by the poor they will remove the beneficent hand as quickly as it was offered.

The core mistake of most saviors, external or internal, is identifying Haiti with poverty, rather than dealing with the reality that Haitians are, for the most part, desperately poor. Being poor, even desperately poor, is not a characteristic or character fault, it is a condition.  There is not some defect, such that Haitians are essentially to be understood as poor. Haitians are poor as a condition that has causes. The chain of those causes can be broken. But one doubts that they can be broken by those who come as saviors.  True friends of Haiti need to begin with the reality of poverty in Haiti, but without the supposition that the people of Haiti are thereby impoverished beings, incapable of governing themselves.

The Episcopal Church has done an amazing work in supporting the mission of the Church in Haiti, but it too has too often and for too long recited the opening verse of poor Haiti: “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”  This basic assertion colors everything else it does in response to the growth of the Episcopal / Anglican community there.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

Having determined that “Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere” is defined by its poverty, most agencies, civil and religious, internal and external, have also come to believe a particular bit of folk wisdom. It goes this way: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” 

For example, following the earthquake in 2010 the Church needed help and relief aid came from the Church in the US. Reconstruction aid was also needed. The US Church wanted to help. But because the funds would not be drawn from the patrimony (the investments) of the whole church or from money on hand, but rather from funds raised, unspecified, general,  reconstruction aid was not a possibility. Rather a highly visible project was needed. The rebuilding of the Cathedral was an obvious choice. If money was only coming for a special project, this would do fine.  

The givers were clear to ask what the receivers wanted, but also clear to state the limits and needs of the givers.  General repair of churches doesn't attract givers, and receivers can’t always be choosers. Haiti then becomes defined by its poverty and viewed through the lens that makes all Haitians beggars. Thus the rebuilding of the Cathedral, a worthwhile project in its own right, became the principle project of TEC's engagement with the ECH. And because it was an "asking" it made ECH once again beggars asking for help, rather than ECH working with and living out its own strategy for reconstruction.

The end of all this is the full blown, even if not intended,  prejudice against those who are poor. Namely, they are reduced to being beggars, and it is not they, but their benefactors, who will determine what they get and what is needed for their betterment.

The Episcopal Church of Haiti in the land of the poor and beggars:

At the time of his death in 1911 Bishop Holly left a church that was small, poor, without much in the way of property or income producing activities, and a small group of clergy who themselves were dispirited.  In 1915, when the churches and clergy were enrolled in The Episcopal Church following the creation of a Diocese of Haiti from the Orthodox Apostolic Church of Haiti in 1913, the statistics were as follows: 10 priests, 2 deacons, 2000 baptized members and 650 communicants. There were 26 congregations, nine primary schools, one secondary school, a school of agriculture, a part time theological school, a clinic, and fifty-four teachers.  (from Petite Histoire de l’Eglise Episcopale en Haiti.)

Following Holly’s death, a commission to evaluate the mission in Haiti was dispatched by the Council of Advice for Haiti.  Meeting with the clergy of the diocese three possibilities were presented: ask for a bishop and continue as an autonomous church; ask that the Episcopal Church appoint a bishop to administer affairs until a better time when the Church in Haiti would choose its own bishop; renounce autonomy and become a missionary district of The Episcopal Church.  Given that the first two options included no guarantee of funds to support an episcopate and no connection to The Episcopal Church, the clergy voted unanimously to become part of The Episcopal Church. (Petite Histoire.. page 39-40)
The Church in Haiti was not without resources and people. It entered the world of “missionary districts” with a small but real patrimony, with an established body. But it was admitted as a church begging for relief and rescue.  Its own leadership called for help, and they got it. They got one hundred years of financial aid and sixty years of white, foreign, episcopal leadership.


Following the general sensibilities of the United States towards Haiti, “The Black Republic”,  The Episcopal Church believed that in taking the church of Haiti under its wings it was being benevolent to a community that could not succeed on its own. Similarly, the United States justified occupation of Haiti as a benevolent action to save Haiti from its own ineptitude as a state.

Failed Church and failed State alike, Haiti was understood as begging for relief.  But Haitians understood that benevolence was in both cases coming from those who believed that Haitians were incapable of self-governance.  So the church in Haiti was viewed as a people begging for relief and a better life and not able to govern itself. It was clear, if you took the aid, you bought the package which included being judged incapacitated.  More to the point, ECH was black, and TEC was white. Haiti, in other words, were poor, incapacitated, and black.

The Episcopal Church of Haiti and the move from foreign mission to indigenous church

In the period following World War II missionary thinking in The Episcopal Church began to turn towards the idea of establishing self-governing, self-propagating and self-sufficient churches in the overseas jurisdictions of The Episcopal Church. In Haiti this took the form of first returning the clergy in Haiti to persons licensed and hired in the Diocese, the Diocese in turn paid by funds from many sources, including a large block grant from the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Almost no one recognized the profound lay role in this movement. There are lay leaders of congregations through out Haiti who work with clergy of larger congregations to provide worship and pastoral care in many small congregations, "mission stations" throughout the land.

Next, through a variety of circumstances, and while still under the dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier, the Diocese of Haiti elected its first bishop (1971). From that point on Haiti has had indigenous bishops. The direction of this movement was not lost on the Haitian church. 
Conversations about autonomy began again, this time with the hope that in the reasonable future Haiti would join with other Dioceses in the Caribbean, or in some other configuration of diocese, to form a new Province.  More recently, because of its size, there has been renewed talk of Haiti becoming its own national church, a Province of Haiti. The work in Haiti would clearly benefit from episcopal ministry exercised on a regional system in Haiti.

In the midst of that long range conversation several things happened: The Earthquake of 2010, the continuing round of political crises in Haitian political circles, the quasi-invasion of UN peace keepers, and the return of people associated with the prior dictatorial and military regimes.  In the church there was the pressing need for reconstruction support combined with a deep suspicion of the church’s ability to control its own finances and direction. 

International agencies both civil and religious have returned at times to their previous sense – that Haiti was out of control and that these agencies needed to regain control. 

Additionally, TEC began, in the early part of the 21st Century, to point out that it was itself an “international church” made up of dioceses and jurisdictions in some 16 countries.  The notion that “overseas jurisdictions” ought to become self-governing, self-propagating and self-sufficient became less important that the claim that TEC was itself able to be multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-national. That is a questionable assertion. I believe rather that TEC is becoming a church for all people, but mostly in the US. 

The end of the matter was to make management of affairs in Haiti a kind of internal matter for the governing bodies outside its own life, both civil and religious.  Bill Clinton became an icon of the larger proposition that US interests, both business and governmental, could mesh with Haitian interest for the betterment of the Haitian people. The Presiding Bishop could become an icon of the larger church, whose interests were one with the Church in Haiti, for the betterment of the Haitian people.  And there is no doubt that these concerns and interests are well intended.

But the problem persists: The view that Haiti is out of control, needs to be in control, and needs to be saved is still there. And beneath it echoes the much older, much more deep seated feeling that Haiti is poor and incapable of governing itself, that poverty is not a state of affairs, but a permanent characteristic of the people, and that it is a failed state, a beggar state, because its leadership is black, and that others must choose for it a future.

What then of Autonomy?

It is my sense that there can be no status quo. Either the ECH will move forward to become a national church of its own, or it will slip back to its prior status as “poor Haitian church” considered incapable, and reduced to continued begging.

Whatever else transpires in the future of the ECH, it must include governance from within. When the current bishop retires or resigns it may be that short term episcopal oversight will be needed until a new bishop is elected.

I need to be clear here. This is my own opinion, and not necessarily those of the Haitian clergy or people. I believe that that person needs to be a bishop of color certainly, and if possible from the Caribbean or Africa, and if possible speak French. Perhaps the Haitian church will believe otherwise. That is their decision, of couse. 

But most importantly the Diocese must move fairly quickly to elect a Haitian as bishop. There have been three Haitian bishops elected for the ECH, two diocesan and one suffragan. They have all been bishops in the American church, that is bishops as TEC understands bishops and their role and tasks. 

A Haitian Episcopate: The Need for a new Concordat.


This time, however, I believe Haiti needs to elect a Haitian to be a Haitian Bishop. That is, the person must be Haitian, but as well the office must be Haitian. It is time to elect a bishop who is NOT an American church bishop, with all the expectations and understanding of the episcopate in the US. The election of a new bishop needs to be in the context of a new concordat between the TEC House of Bishops and the General Convention on the one hand and the Church of Haiti on the other. Unless the next bishop is conformed to the needs of the church in Haiti, and indeed unless the emergence of a house of bishops in Haiti is so conformed, there will be no autonomous future. 

In part that new concordat will have to spell out the continuing need of the Church of Haiti for financial aid while at the same time affirming the need for the Church of Haiti to determine its own use of such support, of course given appropriate accountability to donors. But never again must the Church of Haiti see itself as having to beg or relinquish its governance of its own affairs.

I remember once being at a reception for Bishop Garnier in northern Delaware. He came knowing that he was having to beg for funding. He came at a time when life in Haiti was difficult politically and at a time when his own ministry was constantly suspect from every side. About half way through his presentation he put the card on the table, saying that he knew what he had to do. He had to be nice with people who knew nothing of his situation, but knew what he ought to do.  I believe he knew this was a meeting of people for whom Haiti was “poor Haiti,” and not a meeting of people for whom Haiti was home.
I believe he was frustrated because he could not talk about Haiti as home. He could only talk about Haiti as poor, because that is what we in the church in the US wanted to hear. He had to make the pitch. He had to beg.

It is time to end all that. That, at least in part, is what autonomy is about.

And the place to begin is with the ordination of a Haitian as bishop of a church that is part of the Haitian context. It is time to ordain a Haitian bishop for a Haitian church. Then talk of support will be not be about poor Haiti, but about home.



  1. Mark's observations on Haiti, including his editorial revisions are truly thought provoking to me. The ECH and its ongoing relationship with TEC in some respects mirrors the ongoing relationship between that small nation and its "big brother" to the North. Neither relationship is exactly as that between the colonized and colonizer; however, many of those tensions of that kind of relationship are indeed present. "Autonomy" shouldn't be considered synonomous with or confused with "authenticity". It does seem sometimes that both Hatians and those who are not and who care about it do get these two ideas confused. U. S. private investment in Haiti, if it follows a path similar to other such investments in this hemisphere has the danger of becoming quasi-colonial. The Haitians justly have a long bitter memory of that and instinctively loathe anything that resembles colonialism whether it be political, economic, or cultural. To my mind if TEC is to be an (if not the) instrument bringing a truly autonomus ECH into being TEC has to, seemingly naıvely, act uncharacteristicly in complete faith that the Holy Spirit will and does guide the ECH.

  2. Tom Violett : I had great admiration for Bishop Garnier. The first time I met him at his office in Petionville I recall being somewhat intimidated. He was a big man with an even bigger personality and a deep sonorous voice like James Earl Jones. Yet behind this front I sensed he was sizing me up. Would I judge him? Would I act like so many other well meaning but clueless people that he would have to tolerate? I hope after he saw me for awhile and we got to know each other a bit and saw my friendship with his son he relaxed a bit and knew I wasn't one of them. My two cents worth the church should be autonomous.


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.