In the book of Acts we read “... a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” (Acts 16:9 (ESV)) St. Paul responded and preached the Gospel there, bearing much fruit. In 2003 another call went out from across the North American continent — this time by email rather than a vision — from a small group of Cubans who were worshiping there and wished to be a part of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). The message went to the Rt. Reverend Charles W. Dorrington, bishop of the Diocese of Western Canada and Alaska (about as far as one could geographically get from Cuba among the REC’s North American Dioceses). As a Canadian citizen, he could travel there with relative ease despite the embargo that had long been in effect. He did so and took oversight of the small group there.
The following spring, Bishop Dorrington and his wife, Claudia, returned to Cuba where he found things less than satisfactory. He took the bold step of replacing the leadership of the fledgling Iglesia San Marcos (St. Mark’s Church) with a former Pentecostal minister, the Rev. Ramon Torrente Batista; under his capable guidance the congregation grew from eight people to a membership of 195. The Rev. Torrente later became the archdeacon of what was now the Missionary District of Cuba and under his guidance other churches were established. Archdeacon Torrente and his wife, Dalvis, who has been set apart as a deaconess, relocated to Havana where they started a small congregation. With the archdeacon’s death a few years later, that congregation dispersed to other churches in the city.
The REC presence in Cuba has now grown, at latest report, to some 18 congregations numbering over 900 people. They range in size from 195 to 10 parishioners and though some are served by priests, many are led by either deacons or layreaders.
Missiologically speaking it is almost always preferable for church works in foreign lands to have indigenous leadership — the bishops of the Reformed Episcopal Church had said as much some years ago in a pastoral letter on the subject — and having a bishop several thousand miles and a continent away is less than optimal. Because of this, the decision was made to consecrate the Ven. Raul Willans Mendez Suarez to the episcopate in 2014.
Bishop Mendez was in the United States for several weeks in June and July for the General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (at which the Diocese of South Carolina was received into membership) and he spent several days in the Charleston area, spending time at Holy Trinity Church in South Windermere and at Igelsia San Juan on John’s Island, both of which are led by the Reverend David Dubay. As a former Reformed Episcopal priest, this writer had followed the growth of the church in Cuba but had not had the opportunity to meet Bishop Mendez until his visit to in July when a group of clergy and laity joined him for lunch.
The bishop is a former Baptist minister who joined the REC work in Cuba after several days’ prayer. This writer found him to be a gracious and humble man who is dedicated to the flock entrusted to his charge. When asked about government interference with the work in church, he reported that there had been some easing over the years. Many clergy in the U.S. and other places, especially in smaller churches, supplement their income with outside employment — often known as “tent-making” after the example of the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:3) — but in Cuba registered religious workers are prevented from openly doing so. Clergy and ordinands are being educated through Moore Theological College in Sidney, Australia.
The work in Cuba is exciting, full of possibilities and challenges. More information about the work there as well as videos of some of the congregations may be found at:
https://rec-canada.com/index.php/cuba/ Those wishing to support the work in Cuba may send donations to: The Diocese of Western Canada and Alaska, 70-7570 Tetayut Road, Saanichton, B.C. Canada, V8M 2H4.
The Reverend Charles A. Collins, Jr., is an Anglican priest currently serving as chaplain for a local hospice. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.