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GC79: Cuba rejoins TEC as long-lost spiritual daughter

GC79: Cuba rejoins TEC as long-lost spiritual daughter
A voice vote of "Sí!" seals the deal

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 12, 2018

AUSTIN, TEXAS --- It was a long time coming. The rift is being healed. Tuesday (July 10), Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio (VIII Cuba) is asked to take her place at Table 7 in the House of Bishops, signaling that Cuba's forced expulsion from The Episcopal Church is over. All is forgiven. The hand of friendship has been extended. The kiss of peace has been planted on both cheeks. The Episcopal Church flag will again wave in Havana.

In 1901, The Episcopal Church created the Missionary District of Cuba under the watchful eye of XII Presiding Bishop Thomas Clark. At the same time the Missionary Diocese of Puerto Rico was also created.

By 1905, the first missionary Bishop of Cuba, Albion Knight, was consecrated. He was followed in 1915, by Bishop Hiram Richard Hulse as the second missionary Bishop of Cuba. Bishop Hulse, who died in office, was assisted by Bishop Rudolph de Landas Berghe, a controversial self-styled Old Catholic bishop who participated as an ecumenical bishop in Bishop Hulse's consecration.

It was during the 22-year tenure (1939-1961) of Bishop Alexander Blankingship (III Cuba) that the Cuban Revolution under Fidel Castro took place. As a result, Cuba was plunged into political chaos and eventually became a Communist country.

Cuba's economy stagnated. Travel was restricted. The United States cut political ties with Cuba. The Episcopal Church spun La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba off into an Extra-Provincial Church status under the jurisdiction of a three-member Metropolitan Council comprised of Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Archbishop of the West Indies and the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

Cubans longed for freedom and peace. Many escaped oppression by heading for the shores of Florida, only 90 sea miles away. Meanwhile, Cuban Episcopalians longed to be reunited with their mother church -- The Episcopal Church -- which spiritually birthed them yet cut them loose during the political upheaval in Cuba during Castro's reign. Thus, La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba became an underground church as members struggled to maintain the faith and pass it on.

"In 1961, Episcopal schools in Cuba had been closed and appropriated, and many clergy and their families were displaced. Some remained in Cuba; some either returned or immigrated to the United States. Some clergy who remained in Cuba were imprisoned, executed, or disappeared. Church buildings were closed and left to deteriorate. The church was polarized politically, and its clergy and lay leaders suffered," the Episcopal News Service wrote. "But the church continued in the living rooms of the grandmothers, who held prayer services and Bible studies in their homes. Through them is transmitted a story of pain, and of faith."

The isolated Cuban Episcopal Church trudged along. Cuban Episcopalians suffered under tyranny and the loss of freedom. In 1961, Romualdo Gonzáles Agüero (IV Cuba) was elected as missionary bishop. He is the last Bishop of Cuba to be a part of the Episcopal House of Bishops. Due to political pressure, the HOB ousted Cuba from the fold in 1966 and the Cuban see remained empty until Jose Agustin Gonzales (V Cuba) was elected as the first Cuban-born bishop in 1967.

"Cuba's Christians have thrived despite the island's politics and poverty," Christianity Today reports.

Today only about five percent of Cubans are Protestant. A majority of Cubans -- 60% -- are, of course, Roman Catholic. Another 11% practice various African spiritualities. The "nones" make up a quarter of the population with the remaining five percent of Protestant believers spread between the Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers and Lutherans. Non-Christian sects include Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, Bahá'í Faith, Buddhism and Islam.

La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba (The Episcopal Church of Cuba) has 10,000 adherents worshipping in 46 congregations in an island country which has a 11.2 million population. Point zero eight-nine percent (0.089%) of the Cuban population is Episcopalian.

Reunifying La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba with The Episcopal Church was much easier said than done. Changes in Episcopal Church canons proved problematic for the task at hand.

It wasn't until 2014, when President Barrack Obama started to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba that the fraternal relationship between The Episcopal Church and her Cuban daughter could be more deeply explored. That process was tentatively begun at the 2015 General Convention with the establishment of the Task Force on the Episcopal Church in Cuba which delved into the question how to heal the separation between the two Episcopal churches.

The overarching issue was that while The Episcopal Church had provisions for the creation of a diocese, it does not have canons in place to justify the admission of an established extra-provincial jurisdiction, even though the dioceses of Puerto Rico (2002) and Venezuela (2003) came into TEC sans the needed authorizing canons.

There were several arguments raised to overlook the fact of a missing canonical process. The chief one being that when the Cuban church was ousted by the House of Bishops. it was a unilateral act by the bishops and not an action by General Convention. And only General Convention can add dioceses. The House of Deputies failed to concur with the bishops' actions in 1966, so the argument goes the Episcopal Church in Cuba never really left the mother church in the United States.

This is not the first time that happened. During the early part of the American Civil War, nine Episcopal dioceses -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia -- ceded to form the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. Two other southern dioceses Tennessee and Louisiana were never a formal part the Confederate Episcopal Church because their bishops -- James Otey (I Tennessee) and Leonidas Polk (I Louisiana) -- died before the War between the States ended.

Following the War, the Southern Episcopal dioceses were reincorporated into General Convention. Bishops answered their names at roll call in the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies passed a Resolution of Thanksgiving for the "restoration of peace in the country and unity in the Church."

The only bishop consecrated by the Confederate Episcopal Church was Richard Hooker Wilmer (II Alabama). Following the war, he was seated in the House of Bishops. Charles Todd Quintard (II Tennessee) was affirmed by the House of Bishops as the first post-war Episcopal bishop.

La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba was actively seeking to be reunited with The Episcopal Church. This was a desire, a dream the Cuban Episcopalians have had for years. In all, five resolutions were penned at the General Convention to facilitate incorporating the La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba into The Episcopal Church. The 2018 resolutions included: D060 -- Establish a Covenant with the Diocese of Cuba; A052 -- Matters Pertaining to The Episcopal Church in Cuba; A209 -- Reunification with La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba; A214 -- Preparing for Admission of La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba; and A238 -- Admit Episcopal Diocese of Cuba as a Diocese of The Episcopal Church. All the resolutions on the Cuban church ended up in Committee 6 -- The Episcopal Church in Cuba initial discussion and tweaking.

"Questions have been raised as to the ability of the General Convention to act on this matter, given that Article V, Section 1 of the Constitution authorizes the creation of 'new Dioceses" from the division of an existing Diocese, the union of two existing Dioceses, or the conversion of a Mission Diocese or District. Article V does not state that these are the only sources for new Dioceses,'" explains Resolution A238, which was created to Admit Episcopal Diocese of Cuba as a Diocese of The Episcopal Church. "The General Convention made the Constitution and it amends the Constitution, and assumes that all power is in the General Convention which the Constitution itself does not limit."

Cuba is not the only Episcopal diocese in recent years to make changes. In 2013, the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy was merged with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. The former diocese became the Peoria Deanery within the larger, Chicago-based diocese.

When all the discussion and debate and fault-finding was over, the House of Bishops voted unanimously to readmit La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba into The Episcopal Church as the 11th foreign diocese.

Cuban-born retired Bishop Leo Frade (III Southeast Florida) said the Episcopal House of Bishops "stabbed Cuba in the heart, and it refused to die."

Bishop Frade was 23-years-old when the Episcopal Church of Cuba was expelled by The Episcopal Church in 1966. He didn't leave Cuba until 1968 when he, like so many of his countrymen, arrived in Miami to start a new life.

"House of Deputies did nothing, the House of Bishops acted. ... It was an unconstitutional action by a House of Bishops that had no authority to kick us out," said a tearful Frade continued. "As Cubans, Cubans refuse to die. The reality is that the Church of Cuba is still alive, and it belongs here."

By a unanimous voice vote, the Episcopal bishops accepted the La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba and seated Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio as the newest member of the House of Bishops. Her new fellow bishops gave her a standing ovation. Once her orders are translated to The Episcopal Church and she is added to the historic list of Episcopal bishops, she will become the 28th women bishop and the only foreign Episcopal bishop.

One American, Episcopal Bishop Susan Goff (Virginia-suffragan), also serves as an assisting bishop for the Church of England Diocese of Liverpool, making her the "foreign" bishop.

However, Bishop Delgado del Carpio isn't Cuba's first woman bishop. She follows in the footsteps of the late Bishop Nerva Cot Aguilera (Cuba-suffragan), who was the first Cuban bishop suffragan, as well as the first female Anglican bishop in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Once Bishop Delgado del Carpio was seated, the bishops sent a communique to the House of Deputies requesting that it affirm their action to accept the reunification of the Cuban Episcopal Church.

On Wednesday morning (July 11), the House of Deputies did so with a unanimous voice vote of "Sí!" After which Bishop Delgado del Carpio and her delegation received another standing ovation to the waving of Cuban flags.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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