It is simply inconceivable to the hardy band of Presbyterians who are the Presbyterian Mission in Camagüey that a denomination – whether it be the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC) or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – would close a church because it is too small.
Though they are a small group of less than 25 in a large city – Camagüey is Cuba’s third largest city, with a population of some 300,000 – the members of the Presbyterian Mission here consider their ministry vital
The mission started in 1995 or 1996 – members aren’t entirely sure – and has persisted in a city that is dominated by many large Roman Catholic churches. “We are special because of the attention we pay to each other,” says Elier Perez, who joined the mission recently. “Most of the people live right here in the neighborhood, and so we are very connected to each other.”
Though the mission has no pastor, it does not lack for leadership. Kenie Suarez, a professor of architecture at the local university, and Reinier Rodriguez, who works for Camagüey’s department of history, are a married couple who found the Camagüey Mission while both worked at the university. Suarez grew up Methodist and Rodriguez Roman Catholic. They have been part of the mission for six months, after trying the Episcopal church in town.
“We changed because of the Presbyterian form of government,” Rodriguez says. “The Episcopal Church is a little closed, and we both wanted to pursue some theological studies and work.” Rodriguez has been encouraged by the Rev. Edelberto Valdes, IPRC general secretary, to enroll in extension courses offered by the Evangelical Theological Seminary at Matanzas (the IPRC’s seminary) to prepare for pastoral ministry.
“I am interested in becoming a pastor,” Rodriguez says. In the meantime, he and Suarez help provide leadership for the Camagüey Mission. Services are held in a small room on a narrow neighborhood street, where the congregation has to compete with loud buses, motorcycles, yelling, talking, laughter and the clip-clop of horses pulling carts.
“[Worship] here is a special moment,” Valdes says, “but it is not separated from real life.”
Services are held regularly on Sunday mornings, usually on Friday evenings, and “whenever we feel the need,” Suarez says. The service for a visiting delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took place on a Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., with most of the mission’s members present. The service included the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Worship and mission “on demand” seems to be a hallmark of the Presbyterian Mission in Camagüey. “We need to grow in faith and members,” says one member, echoing sentiments voiced by many PC(USA) Presbyterians. “We don’t want to be satisfied by what we have now.”
A delegation sponsored by the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly (OGA) visited Cuba May 3–11. Members of the delegation included the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, interim director of communcations for OGA; Randy Hobson, the OGA’s photographer/videographer; Frederick Tangeman, director of communications and marketing for the Presbyterian Historical Society; and the Rev. Byron Bland, a member of San Jose Presbytery who is an international conflict resolution expert at Stanford University. They were accompanied by the Rev. Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean (including Cuba) for Presbyterian World Mission; the Rev. Edelberto Valdes, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Caibarién, Cuba, and general secretary of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (IPRC); and the Rev. Ary Fernandez, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Matanzas, Cuba, and moderator of the IPRC.