Thoughts on the Future

THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE OF THE CUBA PARTNERS NETWORK
Comments by Dean Lewis at the Network Gathering – December 2012

I asked for a little time on the program for two reasons. I will be 90 years old in 2016 when we meet next in Cuba, and, if I am still making muster, may not be up to the trip. Since I have been with this Cuba partnership/network thing from the beginning, I wanted to reflect a bit on the journey since it may be my swan song. The second reason is that I think that the PC (USA) Cuba Partners Network is at a critical turning point in its evolution and I wanted to reflect on where we have been and make some suggestions about what the next stage might be.

The PC (USA) Cuba Partners Network as an even dimly imagined reality is barely twelve years old, counting from the November 2000 Celebration of Cuba Partnership in the New Millennium held at CANIP. I said that the organization of the Presbyterian Cuba Connection in 1995 was in a real way the genesis of the network concept and that bears some explanation. In 1995, four PC (USA) presbyteries had formal partnerships with entities of the IPRC: Long Island, South Louisiana, Transylvania, and Santa Fe.

Under World Mission policies at that time, those were the only partnerships that were permitted. These four presbyteries were invited to send two persons each to a mission consultation between PC (USA) World Mission and the IPRC in Havana in June 1995. It was made clear to these persons that they were observers, not participants.

This was the first time that leaders of the four PC (USA) partner presbyteries had met each other and they found that an exciting development. They met for breakfast in Miami after the consultation and agreed that they wanted to stay in communication with each other and work together to promote the cause of Cuba partnership in the wider PCUSA.

The Presbyterian Cuba Connection was organized and chartered to provide that channel of communication, to reacquaint US Presbyterians with their history in Cuba mission through a newsletter, and to raise funds to support the life and mission of the IPRC. Since no official partnerships between congregations were permitted at that time, most of the members of the Cuba Connection were individual Presbyterians. World Mission was not pleased with this development.

By the year 2000, some World Mission policies had changed. Presbyteries of the IPRC could have multiple partners in the PC (USA), and congregational ties were increasing.

In order to celebrate the new Millennium, I worked with Carlos Emilio Ham, then General Secretary of the IPRC, to organize the November 2000 Celebration, deliberately seeking PC (USA) participants from presbyteries, a congregation, and other entities, and planning for the first time to meet with an equal number of Cuban representatives.

World Mission was not pleased with this idea either. Only at the last minute when it became clear that the consultation would be successful did World Mission decide to send participants.

The November 2000 Consultation was a lively and creative success. Carlos Emilio noted that things would never be the same again, when only representatives of the two denominations met together for mission planning. In my own summary remarks, I floated the concept of “a partnership of partners” to refer to the emerging reality.

From 2001 on, the PC (USA) Cuba Partners Network has met annually and a coherent organization has gradually evolved, with a covenant of cooperation, officers and a Steering Committee. The Network has grown steadily to the point that at the present time there are some 80 presbyteries, congregations, and organizations in the membership, and a continuing inflow of congregations seeking to establish partnership relations in the IPRC. I am working with five at the present time.

This is the first contemporary reality that suggests to me that our Cuba Network is at acritical juncture in its life. In just twelve years, we have grown large enough and committed enough that together the members of the Cuba Partners Network are a very significant factor in the world mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The aggregate sum that our individual members contribute each year to the life and mission of the

IPRC is quite substantial – close to half-a-million in 2011 – as the amount that World Mission can contribute to such support has shrunk dramatically. This, of course, is only one example of what has happened as Mission Networks have developed and contributions to denominational mission support have dropped precipitously. We are not called to try to deal with this whole phenomenon, but how we exercise the new stewardship responsibility that comes with our network’s increased size and ability in a connectional way in the PC (USA) is for us to determine.

The other reality that suggests that we are at a critical juncture concerns the evolution of PC {USA) mission policy and practice. I noted above the opposition of the denominational World Mission agency and personnel to the emergence of the Cuba Connection and the Cuba Network. I do this only to illustrate how different things are today – although, sinner that I am, I must confess that I cannot entirely forget the time when denominational staff were urging the IPRC to have nothing to do with the Presbyterian Cuba Connection. Without attempting to track the evolution of World Mission policy and practice, the situation is diametrically opposite in 2012. World Mission understands the critical role of mission networks in the mission outreach of the PC (USA), welcomes that participation, and is working diligently to enable a full partnership with them. The most recent manifestation of these efforts was evident in the October 2012 “Dallas II Mission Consultation: Better Together”, in which numerous mission networks participated and our Cuba Network was prominently represented.

The vision coming from that consultation is that future mission endeavors of the PC (USA) will occur within “Communities of Mission Practice”, composed of an international partner, in our case the IPRC, PC (USA) World Mission, and a mission network, in our case, the Cuba Partners Mission Network.

It is the convergence of these two developments – the maturity and capacity of the Cuba Partners Network, and the development of PC (USA) mission policy that welcomes mission networks into full partnership in the Presbyterian mission enterprise – that challenge the Cuba Partners Network to a new level of coherence and commitment. I want to make a few brief observations about what that might mean for us as we move into this new future.

First, I hope that each individual member of the Cuba Partners Network willconsciously begin to think of that membership as being with the IPRC Synod as well as with their particular partner. I think this is necessary if the Cuba Partners Network is to become an effective partner, a unitary entity, with the IPRC and PC (USA) World Mission in a Community of Mission Practice. Unless we understand ourselves to be one body, though with many members, we will not be able to plan and work effectively with our other partners. There cannot be 80 separate Communities of Mission Practice in regard to the IPRC! This does not mean, of course, that we abandon our commitment with our individual partners – it is that we see that commitment as existing within a commitment to the larger whole of the IPRC within which they live.

Second, I hope that each individual partner will begin to devote a portion of its financial support for the ministry and mission of the IPRC Synod and the Matanzas Seminary in addition to its continuing support of the life and program of their individual IPRC partner. The IPRC Synod has significant distinct responsibilities, as well as the mission of overseeing and coordinating the overall IPRC mission in Cuba, and as a member of national and world ecumenical bodies. As noted above, the traditional IPRC denominational “partner” was the PC (USA) through the World Mission Division and that partner is no longer able to provide significant financial support as in the past.

Most of the current partnerships of members of the Cuba Partners Network are with presbyteries or congregations. If we are to act in a unified way to undergird the mission and ministry of the IPRC as a national denomination, we must be able to share resources and support their priority needs.

We have developed some experience in pooling our resources to meet priority projects on an occasional basis: sending busses to the Seminary, supporting the renovation of CANIP, bringing delegates to the Women’s Gathering, supporting the Emergency Needs of retired church workers, etc. I believe in the future, we will need to have a much more intentional process for identifying and meeting the need for such support.

Third, I think we should consider the possibility of an annual “mission planning consultation” between the members of our particular Community of Mission Practice: that is, the Cuba Partners Network, the World Mission Division, and the IPRC. This would be a time when the representatives of the IPRC could share with us their mission plans and priorities for the coming year and we could begin to consider what we can do to assist in meeting them. I think this might well take place in the two days before our annual Cuba Partners Network Gatherings so that the results would be immediately accessible to our Network members for their own planning.

So that is where I think we are and where I think we might head as the Cuba Partners Mission Network. I look back with some amazement at how far we have come and how strong the commitment and solidarity with our Cuban brothers and sister remains. I am trying to learn to be more open to recognizing my own part in these efforts as I approach the end of my involvement – “legacy time” I think it’s called! After the November 2000 Consultation, the participants presented me with a resolution of thanks that hangs on my office wall and which I cherish greatly. It said in effect, that without my vision and leadership, this would not have happened. I have held fast to that vision through these ensuing years and attempted to nourish and enlarge it, the vision of a coherent network of Presbyterian Cuba Partners in vital partnership with the Cuban Church and in an organic connection with the Presbyterian Church (USA). How far indeed we have come! I hope you will share my excitement as a new opening is before us. I hope to be around for some time yet to join you in moving into that future.

Dean H. Lewis
September 2013