Bishops set to meet with Cuban officials about covenant



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Bishops set to meet with Cuban officials about covenant

By Jenna De Marco | Jan. 30, 2009 {0968}

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker will travel to Cuba Feb. 23 to meet with Bishop Ricardo Pereira of the Methodist Church in Cuba, as well as representatives of the country’s Office of Religious Affairs.

The Rev. Rinaldo Hernández Torres (left) and Florida Conference Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson hold copies of the Cuba-Florida Covenant they’ve just singed during the Cuba Methodist Annual Conference in Havana in June 1997. Photo by Hubert E. Floyd. File Photo #06-370. Originally accompanied “Cuba Methodists renew relations with Florida Conference,” Aug. 8, 1997, Florida United Methodist Review.

The two bishops will review the Cuba-Florida Covenant, which has been in place between the Methodist Church in Cuba and the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church for more than 10 years.

“I’m going because I have been invited to come by Bishop Ricardo Pereira, and he’s invited me because the Office of Religious affairs of the government of Cuba has stated that the two bishops need to come and meet with them,” Whitaker said. “They pointed out that the bishops who signed the covenant originally are no longer there — Bishop Cruz (of Cuba) and Bishop Henderson (of Florida). It is important to them that both of us meet with them.”

The covenant was signed in 1997 by the late Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson, who served as bishop of the Florida Area from 1996 until his death in 2000, and the Rev. Rinaldo Hernández Torres on behalf of Bishop Gustavo Cruz of Cuba. The covenant is a formal relationship between the conferences that is intended to strengthen both in their ministries. Since its signing, many members of the two conferences have traveled to and from the two countries, sharing ideas and resources.

“I don’t know what all of the concerns of the government might be regarding the covenant, and I know they want a chance to talk about (any) concerns about the covenant,” Whitaker said. “The reason I am going is to answer any questions that the government might have and secure the government’s support for the Methodist Church in Cuba and The United Methodist Church in Florida in the future.”

With translation help from Reneé Kincaid, secretary of the Cuba-Florida Covenant task force, the Rev. Pedro Castillo, pastor of San Juan Methodist Church in Santiago de Cuba, helps lead a prayer service at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Reneé Kincaid. Photo #09-1093. For longer description see photo gallery.

Whitaker has traveled to Cuba before and said he has always been warmly welcomed.

“You are always cordially received, and I have had some experience with the people in that office before,” Whitaker said. “I hope Bishop Pereira and I can ease any anxiety they have about the aspects of the covenant and how it is being implemented.”

Many of the trips Florida Conference churches had planned to make to Cuba last year to work with their sister churches there were postponed until a meeting of the bishops could be conducted.

Despite this interruption, “the covenant goes on and the relationship goes on,” said the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of the Florida Conference Global Mission and Justice Ministries. “Cubans are able to come here, and they have been. It’s really a story that the covenant is ongoing.”

The Rev. Pedro Castillo, pastor of San Juan Methodist Church in Santiago de Cuba, visited the Tampa area earlier this year, staying at the home of Reneé Kincaid, secretary of the Cuba-Florida Covenant task force. Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in Tampa is a sister church of Castillo’s congregation through the Cuba-Florida Covenant. Castillo helped lead a prayer gathering there on the final evening of his trip.

Bayshore United Methodist Church member Bob Trotter prays during the prayer service at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church. Representatives from 13 Florida United Methodist churches and two other denominations gathered to pray for the Cuba-Florida Covenant, the people of both Cuba and Florida, and the nation on the eve of the U.S. presidential inauguration. Photo by Reneé Kincaid. Photo #09-1094. For longer description see photo gallery.

“He said, ‘I came to bless Tampa,’ ” Kincaid said. “And we invited people to come on his last night there, which was the night before we had a new (United States) president, and it was just a crying out for the nation and the … covenant.”

Encouraging one another is a key element of the covenant, Rankin said.

“Relationship and mutuality are the two primary words that make the covenant happen,” he said. “In mutuality you respect one another; it’s a mutual thing and each side is giving and receiving of the other.”

Information about the Cuba-Florida Covenant is available at http://www.cubafloridacovenant.org.
 
News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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