Primate’s Sermon from the 109th Synod of the Episcopal Church of Cuba

The following sermon was delivered by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, at the closing Eucharist of the 109th Session of Synod for the Episcopal Church of Cuba/Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba on Feb. 25, 2018.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It has been a great joy to be with you once again in Synod. I bring you warm greetings from The Anglican Church of Canada and most especially from your dear friend and ours, Archbishop Michael Peers. Every Friday, he prays Morning Prayer in Spanish and asks God’s blessings as he puts it “on a wonderful people, country, and church”.

In anticipation of Synod, I re-read a reflection Michael wrote some years ago on the experience of engagement with the Church in Cuba over the span of eighteen years. He styled his role as chair of the Metropolitan Council in the manner of being a Volunteer-in-Mission. He spoke of his role in Synod in offering counsel or advice as appropriate or requested. He also reminisced about the numerous visits he made to parishes across the diocese – preaching and presiding, baptizing an infant, officiating at the marriage of a clergy couple, sharing in Bible study, visiting the sick, attending a youth festival, and meetings with the Department of Religious Affairs.

With vivid memory, he describes a visit to Santiago de Cuba. The first service was at dusk on a Sunday evening in a church on a street corner. “They had two young people choirs”, he wrote, “and in the darkness outside the window grating I could see people crowding around to watch and listen”. He called those moments “Evangelism 101 – Come and See”.

“Come and See”. We first hear these words from the lips of Jesus at the very outset of his ministry. A couple of his first followers ask him “Rabbi, Where are you staying?” and he says, “Come and See.” They go with him, they see the place, and they stay with him. (John 1:38-39) This is as basic a story of evangelism, as one can find in the Gospel.

“Come and See”. Numerous are the stories in which the characters are in every sense saying this very thing, “Come and See.”

Think of the woman of Samaria who encounters Jesus at Jacob’s well and receives from him the water of new life, and how she goes and says to the people in the city, “Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29)

Think of the Greeks who say, “We wish to see Jesus”, (John 12:20) and of how Andrew speaks to Philip and together they say, “Come and See”.

Think of that Roman centurion who having overseen the Crucifixion to its end, is moved to say as Jesus breathed his last, “Truly this was the Son of God”. (Matthew 27:54) His word has all the power of inviting us to “Come and See” the Saviour of the World by whose cross and precious blood we have been redeemed.

Think of the women at the tomb on that first day of the week and how an angel says to them “Do not be afraid! I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here he has risen. Come and see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28: 5-6) That angel’s “Come and See” is an invitation for all of us to come to know the joy and glory of Christ’s Resurrection.

To “Mary Magdalene in the garden a risen Lord says, “Come and See. I am risen. Go and tell the other disciples.” (John 20: 11-18)

To the disciples in an Upper Room he says, “Come and See” as he shows them his hands and his side. (John 20: 19-20)

To Thomas who doubted the report of the disciples, he says, “Come and See”. “Put your finger here, reach out our hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” (John 20: 27)

To Peter, as they stroll along the lakeshore, “Come and See”, Come and see the plan I have for you to shepherd my flock. (John 21: 15-17)

To Saul of Tarsus, to whom he appears on the road to Damascus, “Come and See”, “Come and see the plans I have for you to be the apostle to the Gentiles.” (Acts 9: 1-15)

Countless are the lives of men and women in every age who have had a “Come and See” moment with Christ. For some it has been the farthest thing from their mind yet in an instant it seems, incredibly life transforming. For many more, it is the very thing they desire and for which they pray, but it is a gradual growing in awareness of his call and claim on our lives. “Come and see” the plans I have for you, and the work I am entrusting to you for the sake of the world.

In the vast volumes of these “Come and See” stories is your story and mine.

“Come and See”. It is the story of the Church’s worship through time. The ringing of the church bell is a call to “Come and See”, to come and ponder the loving purposes of God in sending Christ into the world.  It is a call to story and song and sacrament, and then to service in the community in which we live in the name of Christ. I have often thought that while we ring the church bell to gather the faithful, we ought also to ring it as the faithful disperse as the Body of Christ into the community – his ears and eyes, his heart and voice, his feet and hands.

“Come and See”. It is the story of the Church’s work in the world. And it is especially the story of the Church in Cuba. For as long as I have been coming to Cuba, I have been humbled and inspired by your joy in the Gospel of Christ and your unwavering commitment to the works that accompany it.

“Come and See”, I would say to others. Come and see a Church in which the Holy Spirit is moving the hearts of men and women everywhere and calling them to a variety of ministries each one a reflection of a yet deeper commitment to one vow of baptism or another.

“Come and See” a Church working with great intent to equip lay people for strong and spirited leadership in their communities.

“Come and See” a Church where the Spirit continues to call men and women to ministry as deacons and priest. Today we give thanks for the Spirit’s call in the lives of Roberto, Hil, and Juan Carlos, and pray that as the Spirit has hovered over them through their journeys of discernment, study, and formation, so now she may come in all the fullness of her grace and rest upon them, that they be able ministers of Word and Sacrament, Pastoral Care and Counsel.

Yours is a story of missionary enthusiasm and the building of many temples. Yours is a story of deprivation in which you continued to serve the poor. It is a story of resilience and reorganization. Yours is a story of unwavering commitment to the mission of God in which the good news of Jesus is proclaimed,
the people are nurtured for life long discipleship;
the poor are heard and their needs tended;
the foundations for a society that is just for all are laid, and
the earth itself is reverenced as our common home, preserved with the utmost of respect for those who come after us.

“Come and See”. It is the invitation that has shaped so much of your bishop’s international ministry. On your behalf, Griselda travels extensively and speaks at numerous conventions, Synods, and forums. She tells your story, she seeks partnerships in ministry, she asks for financial support. In a word, she says, “Come and See” – Come and see a Church that strives, even with limited resources, to incarnate the Gospel in every community it serves. Come and see a Church that is eager to restore its temples, to build new ones. Come and see a Church that is making a real difference in the lives of Cubans of all ages. Come and see a Church that is ecumenical in its reach and impact.

“Come and See” – It is the essence of your diocesan initiative known as “ICTHUS”. Inspired by the hope of enhancing the profile of Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba within the Anglican Communion, it invites people around the world to take note of this Church and its response to the Gospel.

“Come and See” – It is the essence of an invitation of your bishop, through the Metropolitan Council of Cuba for a visit from someone representing the Anglican Communion. It is a delight to know that The Rev. Canon John Kafwanka, Director of Mission for the Anglican Communion has accepted the invitation and will be in Cuba for a weeklong visit in September this year.

He will “come and see” your parishes, your Diocesan Center and Hostel, and the Development Office.  We hope he will also visit the Blankingship Property and the Ecumenical Seminary in Matanzas. We hope he will meet with the Cuban Council of Churches and the Department of Religious Affairs of the Government of Cuba. He will “come and see” a Church that knows its vocation to be “in and for the world” after the example of Christ himself. He will meet, to quote our dear friend Michael Peers, “a wonderful people, country and church”.

“Come and See”
+ The word of Jesus to a couple of his very first disciples.
+ The counsel of holy men and women through the ages.
+ The wisdom of our dear friend, Michael Peers.
+ The passion of your bishop, Griselda.
+ The essence of your life together in Christ.

May the simplicity and grace of this invitation inspire all your work as you leave Synod and return to all those places where you have been called to serve the people of God in the name of his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

To Him be glory, now and forever. Amen.


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