The 2018 statistical reports for the Episcopal Church are out. There is considerable wringing of hands and some very enlightening commentary around. Among the most challenging is the commentary by Crusty OldDean, Tom Furgerson. His conclusions present one sort of challenge for TEC, namely to get off the high horse of acting like a corporation. I hope the General Convention will listen to him. Unfortunately, the track record on critical rethinking by TEC is not good. The last round of efforts to deal with the structural problems of TEC fell decidedly flat.
Hidden in the weeds of the Statistical Reports are interesting bits of information regarding the resilience of at least one diocese in TEC. On the basis of the records received from the dioceses, it would appear that the Episcopal Church in Haiti, with 89,717 baptized members, is the largest diocese in TEC. And, looking at ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) figures, it ranks among the top 10 dioceses. It is among only 8 dioceses that have recorded an increase over the last 10 years, and this in spite of the terrible earthquake of 2010. It has more members than Province 6 or 9. About one in 20 baptized members of TEC is Haitian.
The Episcopal Church in Haiti is remarkably resilient. Even with the horrendous earthquake, governmental and economic uncertainty and accusations and counter-accusations within the leadership of the church, the church has continued in its ministry and is growing.
It is within this context that The Venerable Fritz Bazin has challenged the Episcopal Diocese in Haiti and The Episcopal Church to a conversation about the future for a more autonomous Church in Haiti.
Archdeacon Bazin is an honorary canon of the Episcopal Church in Haiti and in the Diocese of South East Florida he is Archdeacon for Immigration and Social Justice.
On July 30, 2019, Archdeacon Bazin wrote the following to church leaders in Haiti and officers of The Episcopal Church:
“On July 19th the Anglican Communion News Service posted a photo of Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada, anointing the leader of Canada’s National Indigenous Anglican Church. This gesture clearly points to a courageous action of the Canadian Church to grant a certain autonomy to this indigenous Anglican expression.
Bishop Mark McDonald, now Archbishop of this Indigenous church said “people often misinterpret what we’re doing as an attempt at independence away from the church. We really wish to become an indigenous expression of the church and we are only asking for freedom and dignity that other Anglicans already enjoy.
Although there are various reasons that often cause misunderstanding between the mother church and her former “missions” now Dioceses, what took place in Canada invites us all to look at the need for greater autonomy of the churches in countries of marked cultural differences.
In 2001, the late Canon Jacques Bossiere published a study in French entitled “L’ame de Anglicanisme” in which he points to the need to “deanglicise” the Anglican communion, meaning that Anglicans in Africa, Latin America or the Caribbean do not need to resemble the church in Great Britain, in Ecclesiology, Liturgy and Theology as long as they preserve the basic tenants of Anglicanism.
Our Episcopal Church today is an international structure, yet it is still in the image of the church in the United States of America. The Canons of the Church in Haiti, The Dominican Republic or Honduras reflect the American form of governance, liturgical practices and theological positions in almost every area of the faith.
Exploring the possibility of granting the greatest possible autonomy to our overseas churches would offer a more powerful testimony of the spirit of Anglicanism.
I am inviting the church in Haiti and the general leadership of the Episcopal Church to prayerfully initiate dialogue towards a special autonomy of the Haitian Church within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”
As TEC prepares for the work of the 2021 General Convention, the Church is challenged to consider the possibility of “a special autonomy of the Haitian Church within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”
My sense is that among the concerns that need to be part of that dialogue on special autonomy we will find the following:
(i) There have been wide-ranging discussions in Haiti of dividing the current single diocese into 4 dioceses, with appropriate changes in expectations of and provisions for the episcopate – “locally adapted in the methods of its administration” to the Haitian context. (see the Lambeth Quadrilateral.) This concerns the church being self-propagating.
(ii) A change in expectations of engagement in the life of TEC so that the burdens of TEC engagement do not put a strain on the resources of The Episcopal Church in Haiti. (ECH). (This concerns changing the representation of ECH at General Convention, representation in the House of Bishops, and provision for canonical differences reflecting the Haitian context.) This concerns the church being self-governing.
(iii) There will have to be a clear understanding of the extent to which the ECH is financially dependent or independent of TEC support, and a greater sense of its ability to be self-sustaining.
That is, the ECH and TEC are being challenged to a dialogue concerning the Henry Venn’s marks of indigenous churches: that they be self-governing, self-propagating, and self-sustaining. At the same time, ECH and TEC need also to take the Canadian model seriously: that autonomy does not mean the dissolution of unity with others, but rather greater regard for the uniqueness of ministries within the body of the Church. Autonomy can be enjoyed in mutual responsibility and interdependence.
The stretch for a new future for the Episcopal Church in Haiti is a reality. We in TEC need to stretch too to meet the Church in Haiti at a place of dialogue where such a future can be celebrated by the whole body of the Church.