General Convention Reflection from Wednesday, July 11, 2018: “¡Cuba sí!”
By Lee Alison Crawford
Joint Committee 06, The Special Committee on the Episcopal Church of Cuba, of which I was Vice-Chair, had the special task this 79th General Convention of determining if it would canonically be possible for the Episcopal Church of Cuba to be readmitted into The Episcopal Church (TEC). The following narrative gives a glimpse into the twists and turns that a resolution can take before making it to the floor of General Convention and how many, many lives can be affected by the outcome.
The Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba (IEC) had been a member of TEC since the late 19th-century as a “missionary diocese.” However, in the 1966, the House of Bishops of TEC, in response to the geopolitical environment of the times, decided to expel the IEC from TEC. Since that date, the IEC belonged to no one; it was not part of our church, nor part of any other province of the Anglican Communion. Were it not for a Metropolitan Council and major help from the Anglican Church of Canada over the past fifty years, the IEC would have been completely on its own.
In 2003, the church petitioned to rejoin TEC but neither our canons nor theirs adequately spoke to the unique situation in which the IEC found itself: a fully-functioning diocese, a national church with a bishop appointed by the Metropolitan Council, with more congregations, members and clergy than here in Vermont. The church again asked to rejoin TEC in 2015 and, in response, the 78th General Convention in 2015 appointed a task force to work with the IEC over three years to prepare it for readmission.
However, the task force overlooked our constitution and canons, such that when the IEC came to Austin, the success of their petition once again seemed in doubt. When people asked me wouldn’t it would be easy to readmit the IEC, all I could answer was, “It’s complicated.” The joint committee, therefore, had to discern whether admission would be possible or whether the Cuban church would have to wait another three years while TEC got its canons in order.
The committee heard moving and inspiring testimonies from the current Bishop of Cuba, Obispa Maria Griselda Delgado de Carpio; the Very Rev. José Ángel Gutierrez Ferro, the dean of the cathedral in Havana; Cuban-Americans and US-citizens who have travelled to Cuba with church-sponsored trips. Bishop Griselda speaks passionately about the evangelism the IEC does, how the IEC is a major supplier of sanitary water and provider of schools, and how the current government is more open toward institutional religious groups serving as social agents. At the same time, she spoke of how lonely she has been without being able to participate formally in a collegial setting with other bishops and how difficult it has been for the clergy to survive economically. As the church is not recognized by the state in Cuba, clergy have no access to pension. Their annual compensation is about $2400.
For a couple of days, it seemed as though the committee was going to present a resolution that suggested that TEC get its canons in order and then IEC could return in 2021 to be admitted. Then, as so often happens at General Convention, the Holy Spirit intervened and changed everything. When the Spirit acts, I am always reminded that General Convention is not merely some gigantic legislative body, but a body of committed followers of Jesus who really do try to listen for and engage with God’s deeds and word. After hearing a half-hour impassioned, in-my-face plea from a Cuban-American whom I have known for many years, I came back to my hotel room on Friday night the 6th and wrestled with what my colleague had said. I did not sleep well at all that night because his words held so many truths.
The next day at our meeting, after we heard the third testimony from Bishop Griselda, our committee began deliberations on the resolution that stated that the IEC would have to return again in three years. Whenever the Holy Spirit comes close, I get a bit weepy. With a somewhat shaky voice until I pulled it together, I opened the discussion by saying I had been struggling all night and could not support this resolution. I asked why should we make Cuba wait when we had failed to change our canons, when we had dropped our end of the stick? I reflected that there are times when the pastoral and prophetic response and not the canonical response is called for, and this was such a time. With those words, the entire focus of the committee changed and, one by one, other members spoke movingly and honestly about their doubts and strong desire to make the IEC united with TEC at this General Convention. As I listened to other people in the room, I felt as though I was watching the world’s largest tanker ship change course — laboriously and with great difficulty, but shifting direction nonetheless. At meeting’s end, after the committee wrote a resolution providing for admission at this convention, the person who had spoken so forcefully to me the night before, took me into his arms and wept.
From there on, it was a matter of strategy to ensure that the reworked resolution, with its reasoning that there was nothing in the constitution that prohibited admission of the IEC, actually make it to the floor. While the House of Deputies was the “House of Origin,” the house that normally would take up the resolution first, the committee realized that the roadblocks were harder to surmount there. Thus, on Tuesday the 10th, the House of Bishops took up the resolution, 2018-A-238, and unanimously approved the admission of the IEC. They welcomed Bishop Griselda to their midst and the Episcopal Church of Cuba back into TEC after more than 50 years. When I saw her that evening, she was jubilant.
Rather than describe the last twists and turns of the progress of this resolution, I present some a video of the moment in the House of Deputies the morning of the 11th when President Gay Jennings brought the resolution to the house for a vote. After a minute of silent prayer, she took up the matter:
Once the house had voted, “¡SÍ!!!!,” it was hard to stay dry-eyed and quiet. Even though normal decorum in the House of Deputies prohibits overt displays of emotion, today the House erupted into applause, cheers and overall joy.
Even better, the Episcopal Church of Cuba is once again one of us with its many riches to share. Stay tuned for more interactions with Bishop Griselda, the congregations of Cuba and The Episcopal Church. Who knows, Vermont Episcopalians some day might visit!
For more photographs, see Deputy Anne Brown’s piece from Tuesday, July 10.
Featured photo: The Rev. Lee Crawford with Obispa Maria Griselda Delgado de Carpio