History and Overview
Beginnings in the 1890’s
The history of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba began in 1890 when a Cuban layman named Evaristo Collazo, who had been first an Episcopal lay reader and then a Baptist lay preacher, together with his wife Magdalena opened a school in their home in Havana. The Bible was taught every day, with a Sunday School on Sunday morning and preaching in the evening. The work flourished and Collazo soon felt the need for help. In March 1890, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church U.S. (PCUS) in Nashville received a letter from him asking for “assistance and instruction.” He wrote, “It has been a difficult struggle for me to keep this work going since I have to work with my hands to support my mother and my wife. If it is possible, could someone come and see for themselves whether or not this enterprise merits oversight.”
No one knows why Collazo contacted a Presbyterian Church, though it is known that he had visited Mexico for political reasons and it is probable that he came in contact with the work of the PCUS there. At any rate, in June 1890 the PCUS board sent the Rev. Anthony Graybill, founder of the PCUS mission in Mexico, to assist Collazo, noting that “this field shows a strong inclination toward the Presbyterian Church.” It was a momentous visit! Graybill baptized 40 persons and ordained two elders and two deacons elected by the new congregation in Havana. He then went by train with the Collazos to Santa Clara where they spent ten days in evangelistic meetings – the first Protestant worship services in that city of 30,000. On return to Havana, acceding to a petition of the congregation, Graybill examined Collazo and then ordained him to the gospel ministry! Graybill wrote a bit later: “Some of my colleagues think I took too much on myself to ordain him by my personal decision, but what else could I do? He was already de facto the pastor and was going to remain so.” Rafael Cepeda, in his history of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC), writes: “Such a decision, without any doubt, shows the wisdom and courage of Graybill, who was not afraid to go beyond the letter of the law to solve a problem on a mission field.” Alfredo Chao notes, “Effectively, Rev. Graybill organized the Church in El Cerro, the first Presbyterian Church in Cuba, with 28 members, ordaining two elders and two deacons….After the act of ordination, the first Holy Communion was celebrated.”
Collazo and his wife continued their evangelizing work in Havana and in the interior around Santa Clara for five years, during which time PCUS Mexico missionary Juan G. Hall made several brief visits. During the first visit in 1891, Hall was instrumental in organizing a church and school in Santa Clara and Collazo moved from Havana to become pastor of that mission in July 1891. During a second visit in 1892, Hall and Collazo held services in Caibarién, Remedios and Camajuaní, as well as other smaller communities near Santa Clara. At the end of 1893, the Santa Clara Church counted 50 members and 70 enrolled in Sunday School; the day school had two teachers.
Magdalena, the faithful wife and partner in ministry of Evaristo Collazo, died in August 1893. Conflict in the Santa Clara Church and the deteriorating situation in Cuba led to a recommendation to the PCUS Board in January 1895 to suspend the work. Before the Board met, the Grito de Baire on February 24, 1895 initiated the War for Cuban Independence. Collazo joined the liberation army and served as a male nurse with the rank of lieutenant, the only clergyman to serve in the liberation struggle. In the ensuing five years of armed conflict, the Spanish government brutally suppressed freedom of assembly and as Chao writes, “because of this the services in the established missions were suspended.” The organized existence of the Presbyterian churches in Cuba melted away.
The PCUS Mission: Post-1899
After the United States intervened in the war in 1898 and established its army in Cuba, the mission boards of nine US Protestant churches quickly sent missionaries to Cuba. In April 1899, the PCUS Board sent Juan G. Hall, familiar with Cuba from his visits in the early 1890s. He located in Cárdenas, welcomed by the matriarch of the Torres-Waugh family, Isabel Waugh, who was a member of a Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, and promptly asked for help. Janet Houston and Robert L. Wharton arrived by the end of 1899 and five more by 1902. On February 11, 1900, Hall organized the First Presbyterian Church of Cárdenas (which now bears his name), with 21 members, two elders and two deacons. Wharton, who assumed leadership of the PCUS work after Hall’s death in 1904, came on the field with two evangelistic passions: establishing preaching points in small villages; and opening schools. In November 1900, he became the founding director of Colegio La Progresiva, “su gran obra, la que convirtió en una figura de renombre nacional.” In the mission strategy of the times, many day schools were organized by Presbyterian workers in Cuba, none more widely known and respected than La Progresiva. Wharton became a highly respected civic leader as well. He retired in 1941 and continued to live in Cuba, being elected Moderator of the Presbytery of Cuba (PCUSA) in 1954 exactly 40 years after serving as first Moderator of Central Presbytery (PCUS). When he died at age 89 in 1960, he had returned to the United States and was living in Virginia, but by his own request and Fidel Castro’s personal permission his body was returned to Cuba for burial. The Presbyterians in Cuba still tell of how the city of Cárdenas was closed and the streets lined with weeping citizens on the day of his funeral. He rests in the Cárdenas Cemetery with his wife, still fondly remembered as “Mother.”
In October 1901, Robert Wharton and Ezequiel Torres who was a colporteur of the American Bible Society and one of the Elders in Cárdenas, began preaching services in Caibarién and Remedios, beginning with those who had been part of the work of Hall and Collazo before the war. Both became organized churches in 1902 and a school was opened in Caibarién in September 1906. Robert Wharton also began work in San José de los Ramos in 1904 and the church was officially organized in 1905. Janet Houston, working in Caibarién, visited Placetas in 1906 and initiated the first house church there, which became an organized church in June 1909.
Central Presbytery of the PCUS was organized on January 1, 1914 in Placetas, with Robert Wharton as first Moderator, seven pastors and seven organized churches (Placetas, Caibarién, Camajuaní, Cárdenas, Remedios, Santo Domingo, and San José de los Ramos) plus a mission in Zulueta. Later in 1914, churches in Sagua la Grande and Yaguajay were officially organized.
The PCUSA Mission: Post-1899
In 1899 also, the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. sent a Sunday School Missionary from the Presbytery of Philadelphia, a Puertorican named Pedro Rioseco (Chao insists that Rioseco was a native of Cuba.) On April 2, 1899, Rioseco began preaching and Bible study services in a rented house at 39 Calle Industria, and soon came to know Evaristo Collazo and Antonio Mazzorana, both of whom, according to Chao “were also trying on their own to open preaching centers in Havana.” (Collazo, of course, had been ordained in 1890 by Anthony Graybill in the PCUS.) Collazo had returned to Havana and was endeavoring to continue his evangelistic work, but was also trying to make a living as a dental technician. In October 1899, Collazo began preaching services in 86 Calle de Sitios and Rioseco joined him to open a Sunday School there. Collazo and Rioseco collaborated in opening a day school and mission in 182 Calle Lealtad, three blocks from the present site of First Presbyterian Church of Havana.
Rioseco wrote to the Board of National Missions that “The last service we held filled the space so that we did not even have room for people to stand. I took advantage of the opportunity to announce our purpose to organize a church in the near future.” The Board of National Missions decided at last to send missionaries to bring official ecclesiastical organization to the work. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Milton Greene arrived in October 1901 and established the First Presbyterian Church of Havana on December 8! He was soon joined by the Rev. Waldo Stevenson and the Rev. Herbert Harris. They clearly built on the work that Collazo and Rioseco had been doing for two years. Collazo continued to work in relationship to the new missionary-organized Presbyterianism in Cuba, becoming a member of the PCUSA and serving as Moderator of the Presbytery of Havana in 1906; but, in the imperialistic spirit of the day, Presbyterianism in Cuba was soon deemed to have begun in 1900 with the arrival of resident missionaries from the US. Indeed, the Presbytery of Cuba itself was led to celebrate its Fiftieth Anniversary in 1950!
The efforts of the PCUSA missionaries and Cuban evangelists over the years resulted in the organization of churches and schools in Güines, Sancti Spiritus and Cabaiguán, and churches or missions in Santa Clara, Nueva Paz, Vegas, San Nicolás, and Palos. Mission work was also begun in several localities in the Province of Pinar del Río as well as Regla, Güira and Bejucal in Havana Province. Some of these matured into organized churches but have not persisted to the present.
The Presbytery of Havana of the PCUSA was organized on November 16, 1904 with five pastors, including Evaristo Collazo, in seven congregations with 416 members. The congregations were: La Habana, Regla, Güines, Güira, Candelaria, Nueva Paz, Sancti Spiritus. The Minutes of the 1904 PCUSA General Assembly read: “For the present, the presbytery is placed under the jurisdiction of the Synod of New Jersey.” Two candidates for the ministry were examined and licensed to preach. On the next day, the Rev. Antonio Mazzorana was accepted as a member of presbytery, and two Elders from Nueva Paz were accepted as aspirants to be Candidates for the Holy Ministry.
Fusion of Mission Work: 1909-1917
As noted earlier, nine US Protestant denominations sent missionaries to Cuba at the end of the War for Cuban Independence (Spanish-American War). In addition to the two Presbyterian bodies, two of these were the Congregational Church and the Disciples of Christ. In a pattern similar to that of Presbyterianism, both had had missionaries and work in Cuba prior to the war. That history is very interesting but for the present purpose, we focus on the results of that work as it affected the Presbyterian Church in Cuba.
Congregational Church After a period of negotiation, on February 23, 1909, the Congregational Church formally transferred its Cuban churches to the Presbytery of Havana (PCUSA) and allowed its missionaries to decide whether or not to seek membership in the presbytery. Accordingly, on that date, the churches in San Antonio de los Baños, Guanabacoa, Versalles (Matanzas), and Guanajay became part of the Presbytery of Havana. The Congregational Church in Cienfuegos did not agree to enter the presbytery until May 11. Five ministers who had served the Congregational churches also became members of the presbytery.
Disciples of Christ On April 11, 1918, the Disciples of Christ also transferred its work in Cuba to the Presbytery of Havana (PCUSA). This added the churches of Matanzas Central and Unión de Reyes as well as the missions in Cidra and Manguito. The Rev. Julio A. Fuentes, who served with distinction for many years, also became a member of the presbytery.
Presbyterian Church US The most important fusion, however, was the unification of all Presbyterian work in Cuba under the auspices of the Board of National Missions of the PCUSA in 1918. Though there had been several years of discussion between the two U.S. Presbyterian churches, the timing was undoubtedly affected by the retirement of Joseph Milton Greene. Central Presbytery (PCUS) and Havana Presbytery (PCUSA) met concurrently on October 9, 1918 at the First Presbyterian Church of Havana. The Minutes of Central Presbytery read: “Central Presbytery of Cuba in its meeting held in the afternoon of today (October 9) in the First Presbyterian Church of Havana in Salud No. 40, resolved to solicit entrance into the Presbytery of Havana, and once this petition is approved the Central Presbytery will be dissolved.” Six ministers, including Robert Wharton, were received as members of Havana Presbytery and eight churches added to the rolls: Cárdenas, Caibarién, Camajuaní, Placetas, Remedios, San José de los Ramos, Sagua la Grande, and Yaguajay. Chao notes that with the addition of the churches from the Disciples and the PCUS in the year 1918, there were 27 organized churches under the care of the Presbytery of Havana.
Responsibility for oversight in the unified Presbytery of Havana was divided between Edward O’Dell as Superintendent of Churches and Robert Wharton as Superintendent of Schools. O’Dell had been pastor of the English-speaking congregation in Havana for several years. All of the PCUS missionaries continued to serve in Cuba in their new relationship. In 1930, the name of the Presbytery of Havana was changed to the Presbytery of Cuba. The Presbytery of Cuba remained a part of the Synod of New Jersey until the independence of the church in 1967.
Rafael Cepeda makes an interesting comment about the two decades of dual Presbyterian missionary effort: “The Northern Presbyterian Church preferred to relate its work in Cuba to its Board of National Missions, as if Cuba were part of the territory of the United States. The Southern Presbyterian Church assigned the work of Hall and his associates in Cárdenas to its Board of Foreign Missions.”
Maturity and Growth: 1920-1961
The Presbyterian Church in Cuba continued to grow both in its witness and its numbers during the next four decades, with an increasingly indigenous leadership in the churches and the schools. In 1946, Presbyterians, joined by the Cuban Methodist and Episcopal churches, organized the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas, which continues as the only ecumenical seminary in Cuba. On January 31, 1959, one year after the Batista dictatorship was toppled by Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement, the Presbytery of Cuba reported 4293 members in 34 congregations with 46 ministers. There were 5987 in Sunday School and there had been 231 infant baptisms during the year. In 1960, there were 1,419 students in the Presbyterian schools in Sancti Spiritus, Caibarién, Cabaiguán, Encrucijada, and Güines; and an additional 1,961 in Colegio La Progresiva in Cárdenas.
In its initial period, the revolutionary government was welcomed and supported by most Cuban Presbyterians – as indeed by most Cubans and most citizens of the U.S. Presbyterians served in various capacities in the early structures of revolutionary government. The Rev. Raúl Fernández Ceballos presided over the National Commission on Literacy of the Ministry of Education; Rafael Cepeda and Orestes González had similar responsibilities in provincial bodies. In March of 1959, a commission which had made a special visit to the mother church in the US reported an agreement that the US church would contribute $100,000 for a special service project for Cubans in the areas devastated during the civil war (the eastern mountains, principally). In short order, the project was initiated on land donated to the church by the Cuban government in a desperately poor area in Oriente Province with camps in Tánamo and El Caney. Education, health care, and literacy training were offered along with Bible study and prayer services and Sunday services in ten surrounding communities. In May 1959, El Heraldo saluted Presbyterians who had been involved in the clandestine opposition to the Batista dictatorship, such as Rafael Cepeda and Isaac Jorge, as well as those who had fought and died in the armed struggle – including ten young men who had been students at La Progresiva who had been killed. Rafael Cepeda writes that “During the years 1959 and 1960, the Presbyterian schools continued to function normally and the churches developed their habitual programs.”
In January 1960, the Presbytery of Cuba adopted an ambitious Five Year Plan intended to double the membership of the church, establish Presbyterian work in the principal cities and other strategic locations in Cuba, and engage in extensive training for the laity and education in stewardship. A program of missionary education, coupled with ambitious funding goals, even intended to engage in and support missionary efforts in the rest of South America. In the summer of 1960, the staff, structure and initial funding for the Five Year Plan was established, and a farm near Santa Clara was acquired to become the camping center for the Church.
Decline and Difficulty: 1961-1990
Things changed, as we know. On January 3, 1961, two years after Batista’s fall, the government of the United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba; on April 15, 196l, airplanes proceeding from the U.S. bombed the Havana airports, killing several workers. In short order, Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution, and the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion occurred. For Presbyterians and other evangelical Christians in Cuba, whose Christian education had included vigorous opposition to communism, it was a time of profound anguish and confusion. Rafael Cepeda writes: “The immediate response among the majority of believers was silence, hope, and refuge in the activities of the church.” For Presbyterians, that meant the full program of activities offered by the Five-Year Plan initiated in January 1960 and involvement in CANIP, the church’s new summer camp.
The hardest blow of all to the life of the churches came on May 1, 1961 when Fidel Castro announced the nationalization of all private schools in a speech to a million persons in the Plaza de la Revolución. Isaac Jorge, a past-Moderator of the IPRC, then Vice-Rector of La Progresiva, was in the crowd that day. He took Howard Paul and me to the very spot on which he stood and told his story to us. He had been a supporter of the movement against Batista, so prominent that he had spent the year of 1958 in exile in Miami for fear of his life, returning to Havana the same day that Fidel entered it. He had been appointed by Fidel as one of the three administrators of Cárdenas in the first days of the new government. He had supported publicly and in the church the goals of the revolution. There was no advance notice of the takeover of the schools and when he went to his office the next day to remove his belongings his way was barred. He felt betrayed; and even worse, that he had betrayed others. This action meant not only the loss of La Progresiva and its four satellite primary schools, but also six major schools in other cities and about ten smaller schools that were an integral part of the church’s life and work. Most of the teachers and other employees were members of the church. Some found other work in state schools or other institutions, usually abandoning the church for fear of losing their job. The majority left the country.
Here is what Rafael Cepeda says of that time: “In this period the drain of entire families began who turned their back on the church to become incorporated in the Revolution or took the path of exile. And finally, the exile of pastors began. Although until this day, no one has rigorously counted the loss, it is possible to affirm that between 1961 and 1966 the Presbyterian Church in Cuba lost half its parishioners and half its pastors. In 1960 we had gained over 300 new members through the evangelistic activities sponsored by the Five-Year Plan, but from 1961 to 1984 the loss has been constant. Only a small remnant has remained loyal to the church in every time and circumstance.” By 1979, the reported membership had dropped to 1289, with seven infant baptisms and 418 in Sunday School.
In October 1963, a National Presbyterian Institute was convened with 170 laypersons and 29 pastors as delegates and more than 300 involved in public activities. The program was structured around three forums and three study groups. The forum themes called for “Looking at the Past”, “Looking at the Present”, and “Looking at the Future.” The Study Groups were: “A Church That Testifies: Evangelistic Extension and Christian Service”; “A Church That Is Rooted, Indigenous and Charismatic: Prophetic Mission”; “A Church In Relation With the Other Members of the Body of Christ: Ecumenism.” Dr. John A. Mackay had been especially invited to lead worship and theological reflection. He organized his presentations around the need to “discover the nature and mission of the church in Cuba today.”
The Institute was recognized as a milestone in the history of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba. Two years of follow-up writing and discussion, one or more meetings with officials of the Board of National Missions, and the work of a Special Commission led to an action by the Presbytery of Cuba in September 1965 to appoint a Special Committee of Five to study the details, consult with higher judicatories, and prepare a plan for the formation of the Presbyterian Church of Cuba.
The Special Committee reported its recommendations to the Presbytery in January 1966 and the proposal was sent to the congregations for study and consideration. The proposal was approved by the Presbytery in March 1966 after amendments suggested by congregations, and the proposal was forwarded to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The Rev. Francisco Norniella and Ruling Elder Dr. René Castellanos were elected Commissioners to go to Boston in May 1966 for the debate on the proposal for an autonomous Presbyterian Church in Cuba. Cepeda writes, “In spite of certain technical defects and the opposition of Cuban Presbyterians in the United States, the plan was approved in a fraternal spirit and with historic vision.”
In January 1967, La Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba was constituted in Havana, with a roll of 3082 members; 146 elders; 30 churches served by 17 pastors, three Commissioned Church Workers, two Lay Preachers; and four students in seminary. Moderator Ganse Little and Stated Clerk William P. Thompson presented the official action of the Boston Assembly; John Coventry Smith, General Secretary of COEMAR also participated. (Representatives of the Board of National Missions and the Synod of New Jersey were held up in Mexico and did not receive visas.) Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Latin America, the National Council of Churches of Mexico, the Reformed Church of Hungary; the Presbytery of Puerto Rico; and the Christian Peace Conference took part in the service. The Rev. Francisco Norniella was elected the first President of the independent Church, and the Rev. Sergio Arce was elected General Secretary. Ofelia Ortega Suárez was ordained during the constituting meeting, the first Cuban woman pastor. A request for membership was forwarded to the World Council of Churches and the World Allliance of Reformed Churches,
During the process that led to the formation of an autonomous church in Cuba, other pastors left Cuba for the US, not being willing to give up their membership in the church of their ordination.
In spite of the continuing slow loss of members and the shortage of pastors and resources noted above, the IPRC has steadily provided remarkably able and effective leadership to ecumenical bodies in Latin America and the world. It formulated and in 1977 adopted a new Confession of Faith, which has been widely translated and studied. Largely cut off from its historic ties with Presbyterians in the United States, the Cuban church has found nourishment and support in other regions as its own heroic life and faithful witness have enriched the experience of many around the world.
In October 1985, representatives from the mission agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) visited the IPRC at its invitation. The two churches developed and adopted a Mutual Mission Agreement subsequently approved by both General Assemblies. In accordance with one section of that agreement, partnership ties between the IPRC and a number of governing bodies of the PC (U.S.A.) have been established – Baltimore, Cascades, Chicago, Long Island, Monmouth, Puerto Rico (synod and all three presbyteries), Saint Augustine (includes United Church of Jamaica), Santa Fe, South Louisiana, and West Jersey. Other presbyteries are in the process of forming partnerships and there are over 30 congregations outside the partner presbyteries that have ties to Cuban congregations.
Renewal and a Time of New Growth: 1990 –
In 1990, 75 Cuban Protestant church leaders met with President Castro to discuss relations between the churches and the government. Carlos Emilio Ham acknowledges that a number of developments paved the way for the meeting: “the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua (‘Between Christianity and Revolution there is no contradiction’); meetings between Castro and Latin American Liberation theologians; the 1984 visit of US Presidential candidate the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who led Fidel Castro to attend a church service in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.; the book Fidel and Religion by Frei Betto, based on an interview in 1985” and, we should add, the collapse of the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe.
The church leaders frankly and specifically described the difficulties and harassment they endured because of the official anti-religious stance of the government. Castro asserted that such should not be the case; that religious organizations were providing important support for the Cuban people in a time of great stress. A tape of the meeting was broadcast later over Cuban national television.
There has been a new climate of openness to religion in both government and society since that historic meeting. In 1991, the law was changed to permit religious persons to become members of the Communist party; and in 1992, after a popular referendum, the Cuban Constitution was changed so that Cuba is no longer defined as an atheist state, but a secular state. In subsequent years, three Protestant ministers were elected to the National Parliament, one of them Presbyterian PP Sergio Arce Martínez; and PP Ofelia Ortega Suárez is currently serving on that body.
The years since 1990 have been a time of steady growth for all the churches of Cuba, characterized by Ham as “a tremendous religious revival.” Cuban pastors tell us that four of five persons in the pews on Sunday morning are “new Christians.” Ham notes that they tend to have three challenging characteristics:
1. “They are academically well-prepared, and in many cases are professionals, unlike other ‘Third World Countries.’”
2. “They are sensitive to the depths of their emotions and look for ways to express them. In the context of a materialistic society, they experience deep spiritual needs and therefore try to meet them through the Christian faith.”
3. “They are anxious to recover the time they have lost before coming to Church and to participate actively in the programs of the local churches, including the development of social projects.”
The IPRC must find the resources to renovate and reopen churches closed for 30 years, to establish new congregations, to expand its seminary and camp, to train new ministerial and lay leadership, to provide solid formation in the faith for the new members, and to prepare the resources and rebuild programs for children and youth.
For Cuban Presbyterians and other Protestants, one of the prominent signs of the new social space for religion came in June 1999 with the Cuban Evangelical Celebration. Though this came after the visit of the Pope to Cuba, the Celebration was in fact the culmination of a process that began in 1994. The Celebration brought together the great majority of the 49 Cuban Protestant Churches legally registered, many of them not members of the Cuban Council of Churches. Under the motto “Love, Peace and Unity” there were nineteen public rallies in municipalities and regions of the country. The four national rallies were all broadcast on radio and TV. In the final rally on June 20 in the José Martí Plaza de Revolución in Havana, 100,000 persons chanting “Cristo Vive” began gathering at 5 in the morning for the three-hour celebration of hymns, prayers, music, dance, and a sermon attended by President Fidel Castro and a great number of Government Ministers and Party leaders.
Carlos Emilio Ham writes:
“The vital presence of the Protestant churches became ‘public’, since we had the opportunity to overflow the four walls of the sanctuaries, and through the mass media, to put it in the words of a sociologist: ‘the Protestant churches redefined their social space.’ It was demonstrated once again that religion is a public phenomenon, not a private one. In this regard, we had a similar experience as the Roman-Catholic Church had with the visit of Pope John Paul II in January 1998. This, in both cases, is a concrete manifestation of the ‘secular’ character of the State.”
In February of 1997, the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba approved a number of organizational changes as a result of the new situation and the resulting growth. The denomination is now known as the National Synod of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba. The now larger and stronger presbyteries were given more authority and responsibility. The title of the elected head of the church was changed from President to Moderator in conformity with general Reformed practice. Both clergy and ordained laity continue to be called “presbiteros” following one ordination; pastors are styled Presbitero Pastoral (PP), and ordained laity, who were styled Presbitero Diaconal (PD) are now styled Presbitero Gobernante (PG), again in conformity with general Reformed practice.
And what of today? The Council of the IPRC provided this commentary in 1997:
The abrupt collapse of the eastern European communist bloc, a deeper imposition of trade sanctions by the United States and our own mistakes thrust Cuba into a deep economic crisis, undoing the higher standard of living since the revolution. And now the people are paying the price of that, mainly the elderly and the children.
The Presbyterian-Reformed Church, as part of the Cuban Church, is growing not only because the Marxist government has been more tolerant of religion since 1990 when church leaders met with Fidel Castro. The Church is growing amid a time of serious national economic distress. We are helping give the message of hope, peace and reconciliation. The people are coming to the churches to find in the Bible, and particularly in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, an answer to their deep spiritual and existential needs. The state expects an ethical contribution from Christians nowadays.
But the Cuban Churches are also helping from the material point of view. Churches across the world are responding in a campaign of solidarity with the Cuban people, sending mainly medicines and food that have been distributed by the Cuban Churches and other religious institutions in hospitals, day care centers, homes for the elderly, etc.
In 1959 the Church was not prepared for the radical changes that took place in the country and we had to find little by little our own way to survive. Today the situation is similar. The Church is not prepared for this new “kairos” or ‘moment’ of the country. Now we do not have enough material and human resources to face this growth. We still do not have enough pastors or teachers for the instruction of the great amount of persons, including children and young people that are attending our congregations that are increasing by l00, 150 and more than 200 per cent.
These realities, described a dozen years ago, are still largely true of the situation of the Cuban Church and the society in which it ministers. The “economic crisis” of 1997 continues, made even deeper by a series of recent devastating hurricanes. Presbyterians still face a slow but steady loss of both clergy and lay leadership to emigration. The Presbyterian Church still desperately needs the “material and human resources” to meet the growth in membership and new opportunities for service. However, in spite of these difficulties and losses, the pastors and lay leaders of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba are vigorously establishing new missions and house churches, both in the areas of their historical presence and in provinces more remote.
Yes, there is a Presbyterian Church in Cuba, a vital, faithful, growing witness to the power of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It is a special gift to the presbyteries and congregations and other entities in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be in partnership with that church and its people at this time.
Thanks be to God!
Prepared by Dean H. Lewis using Apuntes para una Historia del Presbiterianismo en Cuba by Rafael Cepeda; Una Relación de la Obra de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de U.S. y U.S.A. en Cuba Desde Sus Comienzas Hasta la Celebración del Cincuentenario by Alfredo Chao; and The Protestant Churches in Cuba: History, Present and Future by Carlos Emilio Ham. This summary received minor editing and updating in 2010.