Cuban Companionship Ministry

Engagement with God: St. John the Baptist and Holy Trinity

A Collect for the Cuba Companionship Ministry–O God, you are reaching for us and through us, transforming our world through dialogue. We ask for growing engagement and support for the Cuba Companionship Ministry within ourselves, our church, and our diocese.  On behalf of the Cuban people, and especially for San Juan Bautista, our companion church, we ask for a vision of abundance and possibility.  We ask also that Andrés be graced with wisdom and discernment and that he be the recipient of a generous spirit toward him as he leads the congregation in Florencia.  We confess our fear of scarcity and of being overwhelmed, which hinders our ability to be fully present partners. We give thanks for the compañerismo relationship that opens doors on both sides of the water; and we come together in awe and wonder at experiencing God’s grace through this relationship, so that, together, we can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  All this we ask in the name of the Compañero, the one with whom we share bread.

Una colecta para el Ministerio del Compañerismo Cubano–O Dios, estás buscándonos y obrando en nosotros, transformando el mundo mediante el diálogo. Te pedimos un creciente compromiso y apoyo para el Ministerio del Compañerismo Cubano, dentro de nosotros,  nuestra iglesia y nuestra diócesis. De parte del pueblo cubano, y especialmente por la iglesia San Juan Bautista, nuestra compañera, te pedimos una visión de abundancia y de posibilidad. También te pedimos que les derrame en Armando y en Andrés sabiduría y discernimiento, y que los fieles los reciban con un espíritu generoso ahora que son los pastores del rebaño en Florencia. Confesamos nuestro miedo de la escasez y de estar agobiados, que no nos permiten ser compañeros de plena presencia. Te damos gracias por el compañerismo que abre puertas en las dos orillas del mar, y nos reunimos reverentes y maravillados frente a tu gracia que ilumine esta amistad, para que juntos podamos practicar la justicia, amar la misericordia, y andar humildemente con nuestro Dios. Todo esto te pedimos en el nombre del gran Compañero, el con quien compartimos el pan.


The Cuba Committee at Holy Trinity exists for the purpose of increasing mutual engagement between the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) and the Episcopal Church in Cuba (ECC). This engagement has as its highest purpose the  seeking  of a closer relationship with God.

More specifically we are engaged in:

  • Spreading God’s love and peace among our Cuban friends
  • Giving and receiving immeasurable joy from our relationship
  • Receiving any giving of gifts of caring and love with all its benefits to both giver and receiver
  • Having the privilege and joy of hosting Cubans in our home or parish.

Current Background Information on Relationship

The Diocese of Florida is linked with the Diocese of Cuba with 41 parishes in Florida linked with at least one church in Cuba. The Diocese of Florida has 75 congregations and a 14,000 household community with 135 canonically resident clergy. The Episcopal Church in Cuba (ECC) had about 10,000 communicants and 50 churches and missions and 24 priests. The Cathedral is in Havana, the residence of Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio.

The Diocesan Cuba Committee (DCC) meets monthly, usually at a central location such as St. James in Lake City. The focus of most meetings is the sharing of information on how the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) and the Episcopal Church in Cuba (ECC) can more effectively engage in a Christian relationship, ­ becoming an integral part of each others lives as we both grow in the knowledge and love of God. Local parishes have joined forces to help fund individual parish trips as well as subsidizing funding to increase Cuban priests’ salary of approximately $20 a month.

The Holy Trinity Cuba Committee is under the auspices and funding of our Outreach Committee chaired by Kathy Navajas.  Many Holy Trinity parishioners give generous support in funds and goods to our parishioners traveling t o Cuba . We generally visit our companion parish in Cuba, San Juan Bautista, once a year and 2-4 parishioners make the trip.



Each group traveling to Cuba requires considerable advance preparation in terms of acquiring US permission and a Cuban visa.  Current– cost is about $1100 for a 7 day trip.   Medicine, clothing and church goods such as the Book of Common Prayer in Spanish and Bibles as well as communion chalices and plates are permitted by the government and welcomed by the parishioners.


The Episcopal Church in Cuba and the Companion Relationship with the Diocese of Florida

The Episcopal Church in Cuba has a long history which, is mostly unknown to American Episcopalians because of restricted news coverage and communication. The rich and lengthy history of the Episcopal Church in Cuba stems from three different sources.  One dating back to 1871 and a coincidental visit by an American bishop who had planned to go elsewhere in the Caribbean.  Having found conditions for non-Roman Catholics to be deplorable, he recruited a missionary for Cuba from the United States, and a ministry for non-Roman Catholic foreigners in Cuba was born.

Perhaps even more critical to the church’s growth was the contribution of Cuban patriots, exiled to the United States during Spanish Colonial rule who, as lay readers, established congregations when they returned to their homeland. A large influx of Anglicans from the Antilles, later brought their religious practice, and worship in English.  The result has been a rich blend of Cuban and Spanish translations of Jamaican Anglican music into their worship.

In 1904, Cuba became a mission district.  The American Church appointed the first three bishops.  In 1980, Bishop José González, the first Cuban bishop, called for a coadjutor, at which time Emilio Hernández was elected and he became bishop in 1982.   The following bishop Jorge Perera Hurtado was appointed bishop by the Metropolitan Council in 1994. Originally a Roman Catholic, he converted to the Episcopal Church and later became a priest.

Currently, there are over twenty five churches in the Diocese of Cuba. The growth of the church in recent years has caused the available priests to have to serve as many as three churches each.  Even though there are a number of young men and women in the Ecumenical Seminary in Matanzas, for the present, deacons and lay readers also help tend to some of the Churches until every church has a priest.

Begun in 1984 under the leadership of Bishop Emilio Hernandez and Diocese of Florida Bishop, Frank Cerveny, the companion relationship of these two dioceses has been full and rich. Presently, the companion relationship is thriving with more than 40 companion churches under the leadership of Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio and Bishop John Howard of the Diocese of Florida.

Much has been accomplished in the last 25 years and much more is still needed.  There are still many churches meeting in small living rooms or outdoors. Time, resources and care are still needed as the Church in Cuba continues to grow. Our responsibility as partners in mission is to find ways of becoming integral parts of each others lives as we both grow in the knowledge and love of God.


Holy Trinity’s Background and History with the Cuban Companionship Ministry
by Kathy Navajas

Florencia is 5 hours east of Havana by car, a small town in a beautiful agricultural area. Right downtown, on a dusty plaza in front of the railroad tracks, sits San Juan Bautista, our companion church, which was built in the 1930′s. At one point many of the people in Florencia belonged to SJB, but the revolution in 1959 took its toll, especially under the very secular influence of the Soviet Union, and while people’s faith did not diminish, the churches were closed, and the practice of religion became something one did privately, if at all. In the late 1980′s, that Soviet model began to be questioned, and as a result there was space for a growing religious revival, of which the Cuba Companionship Program was a part.

1984 is an important year, the year when Jesse Jackson visited Cuba. Bishop Tamayo tells the story of how Jesse Jackson interrupted a conversation with Castro, who is famously long-winded, to announce he had to leave to attend a church service celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. as a spiritual leader. Castro was so stunned and impressed that he decided to go with him. Imagine the surprise of the people at the church when Jesse Jackson and Fidel Castro arrived together! Fidel then spoke in church to the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. as both a spiritual and a political leader. That same year, Frank Cerveny of Florida and Emilio Hernandez of Cuba met again at Convention in New Orleans. They had been friends as young priests, and it was the first time since before the Revolution that they had seen each other. Emilio had just gotten out of prison in Cuba. They decided to start a Companionship Program between churches in Cuba and Florida. Later that same year they both became bishops, and Bishop Cerveny and Virginia Barker (Jax) made the first trip to Cuba to organize the program.

In 1987 Bettye Zowarka and Catherine Buckingham went to continue that work, and in 1989 Melody Marshall went with St. Joseph’s Church. Bettye Zowarka reports that one year the annual Convention was at HT when Earle Page was rector, and that Bishop Emilio and several other Cuban priests came here. She also told me that Bishop Emilio came back after the church burned in 1991 and  wept when he saw it.

While David Pittman was rector,  San Juan Bautista became our companion Parish, around 1989. Nancy Galloway stepped forward to take that on, and until 2004 it was mainly she who went each year to Florencia, bringing medicines, vitamins, cloth, and art supplies to the folks there. She accompanied them through the hard years of “el período especial’ in the early 90′ after the Soviet Union withdrew support from Cuba, and there were terrible shortages of food, clothing, medicine, water, and everything else.

In 1998 Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, and that’s when things there got a lot easier for organized religion. Many restrictions were lifted, churches opened, there were fewer civic restrictions for people who were active in religion.

In 2004  Harold and Susan Nugent went to Cuba with a group led by Julia Sullivan, who is now the head of the Diocesan Cuba Committee. They didn’t make it to Florencia, but they got close. In October of 2004 Father Gordon Tremaine went with Nancy Galloway, which was a big deal for them at SJB, to have a priest come visit. It was a powerful experience for all involved, including Gordon.

In March of 2006 I went for the first time, and I went alone, taking the usual medicines, vitamins etc. Maytée de la Torre Díaz was the seminarian serving at SJB. She defected to Brazil later that year.

In July of 2007 Janice Hamilton, Leslie Dugger, Aliesa Zoecklein and I went. Caridad Companioni was the seminarian serving at SJB. She left the church later that year for personal reasons.

In March of 2008 Christina Ford, Erica Briggs and I went. We bought them an electronic keyboard for the church so they could have music again. Father Armando Delgado Orosco was the rector and we had good talks with him about new directions for the church.

In May of 2009 Marilyn Peterson, Terry Fleming and I went, bringing choir robes for SJB’s new choir, a guitar, and lots of shoes and clothing and supplies for the church. Andrés Espinosa Marrero was a deacon serving SJB and was ordained a priest on Aug. 9, 2009. He is now the rector, much beloved by parishioners. He is young and brings many talents to his vocation. We are all very hopeful.

Probably another dozen folks at HT have expressed interest in visiting Florencia. Visiting is the most important thing we do. Compañero in Spanish combines the word con=with and pan=bread, the one with whom we share bread.

At Convention in 2006 a resolution was passed (A016) encouraging all Episcopalians to 1) establish companion relationships with churches in Cuba, 2) visit Cuba to exchange religious and political ideals, and 3) to pray for the reconciliation of Cuba and the USA.

Our presiding bishop said in her teleconference in February that we in Ecusa “are passionate about mission” not in the sense of going out and converting the pagans, but in “getting ourselves invited into dialogue with those who are different from us.” This implies a willingness to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions and behave respectfully, so that others want to know us and have a relationship with us. To have such relationships, to exchange religious and political ideals, to dialogue with those people who are different from us, speaking the same language helps, but even when we don’t speak Spanish there is much to offer and to learn. Humility, listening, trusting, close observance—that’s what we learn when we can’t speak.

The Cuba Companionship Ministry also corresponds regularly with our parishioners in Cuba, and sends Christmas cards to them all. This is peace work, spirit work, full of spiritual challenge and opportunities for growth as we strive to do God’s work across many cultural differences, but with a servant’s heart.