Bishop’s ministry spans Cuba, Uruguay, and Canada

Bishop Miguel Tamayo Zaldívar has worn many hats—and at least two different mitres—in the Anglican Communion. The bishop of both Uruguay and Cuba was in Toronto, Ont. from May 11 to 15 with his wife, the Rev. Martha López, to receive an honorary doctorate from Trinity College and also to connect with his many Canadian partners.

Bishop Miguel Tamayo outside of General Synod offices in Toronto, Ont.
Bishop Miguel Tamayo outside of General Synod offices in Toronto, Ont.

“I can say that I know Canada from east to west,” grinned Bishop Tamayo in a recent interview. His Canadian connections began in the 1980s, while he was working as dean of the Havana cathedral in his native Cuba. The Anglican Church of Canada chose him as the first international member of the Partners in World Mission Committee, and he visited Canada twice a year for meetings.

Then the friendly meddling began. The Rev. David Hamid, serving as mission coordinator for the Latin American/Caribbean region, asked Bishop Tamayo to consider assisting the church in Uruguay as a missionary sponsored by the Canadian church. The Cubans agreed to send him, and after three years of ministry in Uruguay, Miguel Tamayo was elected bishop in 1998.

Dividing his ministry

This arrangement lasted until 2003, when the Cuban church came calling again. The Cuban church is overseen by the Metropolitan Council of Cuba, composed of primates from the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church, and the West Indies. The chair at the time, Archbishop Michael Peers of Canada, approached Bishop Tamayo to serve as bishop of Cuba for a three-year term. Bishop Tamayo agreed and split his ministry between Havana and Montevideo. His term was renewed for another three years.

“It’s stressful. I have to recognize that,” said Bishop Tamayo of the back-and-forth lifestyle. “But God helped. No problem.”

Bishop Tamayo ministers in two provinces with very different alignments in the Anglican Communion. Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Province of the Southern Cone (where Uruguay is), has licensed Canadian and American priests who have left their churches over disagreements regarding homosexuality. The Canadian and American churches have protested these cross-border interventions.

Bishop Tamayo, who served on the 2008 Lambeth planning team, says his position is “challenging and easy at the same time.” He explained that both Cuba and Uruguay have decided not to ordain practicing homosexual people or bless same-sex unions, although they do welcome all people to their church, regardless of sexual preference.

“In terms of leading with other churches like the Canadian church and the Episcopal Church, we are very respectful of their decisions,” said Bishop Tamayo. “We believe that every church has the right to handle their own business in the way they decide according to their own canons and laws.”

Criss-crossing partnerships

The churches in Uruguay and Cuba remain deeply and practically connected to Canada. Bishop Tamayo noted that these ties, at least in Cuba, go back to the 1959 revolution, when the Canadian church was one of the few churches that supported the Cubans after  they left the Episcopal Church.

Today General Synod’s Partnerships department gives grants to both Cuba and Uruguay, and the Diocese of Niagara is in a lively companion relationship with both dioceses.

“It is heartening to see our historical relationship continue to unfold in new and deeper ways,” said Henriette Thompson, director of Partnerships. “Today the Diocese of Niagara and the Diocese of Cuba parishes are sharing prayer concerns and thanksgiving.  They’re seeking to learn more about each others’ lives.”

Bishop Tamayo is gradually withdrawing from this criss-crossing map of partnerships. He turns 65 this year and jokes, “I won’t extend my episcopate until I have to use a cane!” He hopes that the Cuban church can elect a new bishop this year, and on May 26 the Uruguayan church will elect a suffragan bishop who may become diocesan bishop in a couple of years.

“I am hopeful,” said Bishop Tamayo, who still seems full of energy. “If all this happens, praise the Lord!”

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