5/27/2017

The rootedness of the Episcpal Church of Haiti, Reconciliation and new beginnings towards autonomy.

Tuesday May 23rd, marked a moment of new hope in the life of the Episcopal Church of Haiti.  

photo from Episcopal News Service, Michael Hunn
The Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, the Bishop of Haiti Jean Zache Duracin, and the now resigned Bishop Suffragan of Haiti Ogé Beauvoir, and members of the Diocesan Standing Committee signed a covenant which it is hoped will focus the Diocese on its future.

The Presiding Bishop preached at the Eucharist which drew the parties to the covenant together with the clergy of the Episcopal Church of Haiti. In that service, the covenant, already signed and in force, was signed again in the presence of the clergy of the Diocese. The Presiding Bishop's sermon may be found HERE. 

Towards the end of the sermon Bishop Curry said, 

"The roots of this diocese are in Bishop Holly’s fervent desire that the loving, liberating and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ should be proclaimed among the descendants of Africa here in Haiti.

The roots of this Diocese are in Bishop Holly’s passionate conviction that following the way of Jesus the Church here might help the people and nation of Haiti to rise up and to claim the high calling among the nations of the earth.
But ultimately the roots of this Diocese are in the one of whom Isaiah prophesied when he said:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah 11:1
The roots of this Diocese are in Jesus Christ who died, and was raised from the dead, by the loving power of our God, who the Bible says, makes all things new.

So, standing firm, rooted in the faith of Christ Jesus, let the Diocese of Haiti rise up and reach out anew!"

Bishop Curry's words are moving and totally appropriate to the context. The "root" metaphor is deeply meaningful in Haitian self-understanding. Christy Wampole, in her book, "Rootedness: the Ramifications of a Metaphor" recalls its use by both Toussaint Louverture at the beginning of the Haitian Revolution and Jean-Bertran Aristide in 2004.

"Toussaint Louverture used the root metaphor in 1802 as a rallying cry for the success of the Haitian Revolution, when he declared: "By overthrowing me, they have only brought down the trunk of the tree of freedom in Saint-Dominque: It will regrow because its roots are deep and many."  Jean-Bertran Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, later appropriated this declaration on the occasion of his own removal, in the first speech after his exile in 2004."

The metaphor is also used in biblical literature. Bishop Curry was right to reference the passage from Isaiah, as a sign that the depth of the roots in the Episcopal Church of Haiti are to be found in the stump not only of the Haitian revolutionary tree whose hopes were for the liberation of the people of Haiti, but the stump of Jessie from whom would arise Jesus who liberates us for a new creation.

There is as well another context in which rootedness is a metaphor of considerable importance to Haiti, and Bishop Curry's sermon alludes to it: 

"The roots of this diocese are in Bishop Holly’s fervent desire that the loving, liberating and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ should be proclaimed among the descendants of Africa here in Haiti.
The roots of this Diocese are in Bishop Holly’s passionate conviction that following the way of Jesus the Church here might help the people and nation of Haiti to rise up and to claim the high calling among the nations of the earth."

Bishop Holly
 In order to get to those roots there was the willingness to cut down Haiti the colony of enslavement, of European power, Haiti the "tree" of colonial empire. The Haitian Revolution had to cut down the tree that had been sustained by slavery and live in the confidence that Haiti, the true Haiti was rooted in the source African voice still present in its people. Those people, now free by virtue of their revolution that cut down the tree of Haiti the slave colony, were called to a new beginning as Haiti the free. 

Bishop Curry reminds us that the roots of the Episcopal Church of Haiti also are deep and many. The tree goes back to the work of Bishop Holly in the 19th Century, work that was both religious and political in its desire to live free in Christ. But ultimately, the "roots that are deep and many" go back to Jesus Christ. Thus, the way out of the conflicts of the day is to recall and regrow from the roots, to renew the church by returning to its roots. For the Episcopal Church of Haiti those roots are Holly, the quest for liberation from slavery and slave making states and the desire to live free, and the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So in responding to a current conflict between the Bishop and his Suffragan Bishop, and between clergy who have taken up the cause of one or the other, the appeal was not to resolution by reference to custom or canon law, but by reference back to the root from which the efforts of the Episcopal Church of Haiti sprang, roots which themselves called on all members of the Church to be followers of Jesus Christ, part of a new way of being. Bishop Curry calls this "the Jesus movement," which is not finally an institutional presence but a commitment to life together as God's people.

Many people have worked to make this resolution of current conflict possible. Bishop Curry has been particularly helpful. Hopefully the way forward to a good electing convention and a positive transfer of the episcopate to a new Diocesan will take place. All signs are good.

At the same time it must be pointed out that there have been times in this lengthy process where the reactions of The Episcopal Church in its bureaucratic voices to matters in Haiti were paternalistic, patronizing, and colonial minded. It is past time for TEC to put away such ways of responding.

I have argued that The Episcopal Church of Haiti is poised to move into ways of being church that would lead to its autonomy as a church. See my essay HERE.  Progress to that end has been delayed by some years by the preoccupations of the past year. Hopefully the new elected bishop of Haiti will stand ready to take the church into an autonomous future which will give voice to the rootedness of which Bishop Holly speaks and Bishop Curry favors - a church truly Haitian, rooted in its people and in the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.