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Youth movement

Cuba’s del Centro Presbytery flourishes with young leaders

April 5, 2010

First Presbyterian Church of Santa Clara, Cuba.

First Presbyterian Church of Santa Clara, Cuba. —Photos by Jerry L. Van Marter

SANTA CLARA, Cuba

Leadership of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC) is slowly moving from the generation of church leaders born before the 1959 revolution to those who were not alive when Fidel Castro toppled the Fulgencio Batista regime.

And nowhere is the IPRC’s transition in generational leadership more apparent than in del Centro Presbytery, the largest presbytery in area of the three IPRC presbyteries (the others are Havana and Matanzas.

“Our presbytery focuses on young people, where generational differences are not a handicap,” del Centro Moderator the Rev. Miriam Naranjo told a group of visiting U.S. Presbyterian leaders from the Synod of the Sun March 20 at First Presbyterian Church here. The group also included General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and this reporter.

Synod of the Sun Executive Judy Fletcher presents a gift to the Rev. Miriam Naranjo, moderator of del Centro Presbytery.

“The leadership of our presbytery is all younger,” said Naranjo, who appears to be in her early-30s. “We have very good lay leaders who have been very well trained by our pastors to make our sessions stronger.”

Del Centro Presbytery consists of 13 congregations and eight less formal “missions, but they are served by just eight pastors, including Naranjo’s father, who is retired. So active, well-trained lay leaders are essential.

“But it has also made a presbytery rich in diversity,” Naranjo said, “with no differences between pastors and lay leaders. A sense of hope is our main faith.”

Women are also in many leadership positions, said Vice-Moderator the Rev. Edelberto Valdes. “Of course women are a majority in our congregations and are not relegated to traditional roles but to all levels of leadership,” he said. “Women’s ministry is not segregated and because more men left the country [after the revolution] it is thanks to the women that many of our churches didn’t close.”

The Rev. Edelberto Valdes (in striped shirt), vice-moderator of del Centro Presbytery in Cuba, speaks to a PC(USA) delegation from the Synod of the Sun.
Every congregation in del Centro is involved in social outreach projects. “The main reason for being the church in Cuba is to meet the social needs of our people,” Valdez said. Ministries include laundry service, sewing and mending, food growing and distribution, outreach to the elderly and HIV/AIDS ministries.

“We were also the first presbytery to address problems of machismo (male domination),” Naranjo said. “We get men together with men, women with women and all people together to talk about issues of equality and how we can live and work and serve better together.

“This makes us special,” she said with a laugh.

Transportation and communication are major issue throughout Cuba, but particularly in sprawling rural areas like that which encompasses del Centro Presbytery. “We don’t have cars — only four — so it makes our work more difficult,” Naranjo said,  and the presbytery has just four e-mail accounts “to coordinate the work of the whole presbytery.”

Del Centro Presbyterians are undaunted. “Necessity breeds creativeness,” Naranjo said. “It makes us always think about creating projects in such a way that people can participate. First we have to dream, but the dreams are very concrete and out of them come the projects.

A new Christian education building at First Presbyterian Church, Santa Clara, needed for the growing Sunday school and community outreach programs.
Photos by Jerry L. Van Marter

Three PC(USA) presbyteries — Baltimore, Cascades and Monmouth — are partnering with del Centro Presbytery. More than 20 PC(USA) congregations have church-to-church partnerships with del Centro congregations, through the denomination’s Cuba Mission Network.

“We are very happy,” Naranjo said, “because we are creating the future. We’re not working for this moment, but are looking to what the church can do … to deepen ministry for the dignity of all people.”

Editor’s note: The Presbyterian News Service is grateful to the leaders of the Synod of the Sun who extended the invitation to be part of their journey to Cuba: Synod Executive Judy R. Fletcher (and her husband, David, a Dallas pastor); the Rev. Jose Luis Casal, executive presbyter, Tres Rios Presbytery; Elder Cecilia Casal, national moderator of Hispanic/Latina Presbyterian Women; the Rev. Ruben Armendariz, consultant for church development, Mission Presbytery (and his wife, Cynthia Diaz de Leon, a Presbyterian elder); the Rev. Joseph W. Hill II, general presbyter, Pines Presbytery; Elder Hilary N. Shuford, executive presbyter, Mission Presbytery (and her husband, Harry, a Presbyterian elder); the Rev. Mike Cole, general presbyter, New Covenant Presbytery; the Rev. Richard Schempp, executive presbyter, Palo Duro Presbytery; the Rev. Sallie Watson, interim general presbyter, Arkansas Presbytery; and the Rev. Marvin L. Groote, interim general presbyter, Presbytery of South Louisiana. — Jerry L. Van Marter

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