UCC Cuba Study Seminar 2019 offers unique discovery amidst this island’s people

by Rev. Tom Warren

Since 1980, the United Church of Christ has been in relationship with the people and churches of Cuba. For the past 40 years, through the United Church of Christ Cuba Study Seminar, groups of UCC members from around the country have encountered and learned about the “Cuban revolutionary reality”. Now led by Pastor Tom Warren of Peace UCC in Greensboro NC, the trip continues to introduce participants to an understanding of Cuba rarely shared through the U.S. media.

This years’ Seminar group included 15 participants from UCC churches in Seattle, Saint Louis, and Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. The participants from Pleasant Hill Community Church were Barbara Smith, Sue Peeples, Don Rainer, and Linda Persohn. Along with these UCC members, the group also included a member of a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia and two members of the Orthodox Armenia Church in New Jersey. Quite diverse!

Cuba is now in the 60th year of its historic revolution of 1959. Led by Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, Argentine doctor Che Guevara, and the radical woman leader Vilma Espin among many others, Cuba today is an interesting mix of revolutionary, socialist ideas slowly blending with private enterprise, the effects of tourism, and the ever increasing influence of social media. On February 24th the Cuban people voted overwhelmingly (86%) in favor of a new national constitution which pushes Cuba further into the 21st century in regard to human rights, private enterprise, and engagement with the global economy.

For 15 days (February 1st-15th) Seminar participants traveled across the island by bus visiting the major cities of Havana, Varadaro, Santa Clara, Camaguey, and Santiago. At each stop the group met with local officials, doctors, historians, Communist Party officials, school children and teachers, and church leaders. Both Sundays on the island were spent in worship at local Baptist churches, while along the route visits were made to three different Christian seminaries. An afternoon at the beach, museum visits, powerful mini concerts with the Cuban National Choir and Orfeon Choir of Santiago, visits to an organic farm, and conversation about the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military base with government representatives from Guantanamo Provence all made for a stimulating and thought-provoking trip.

Americans who have never visited Cuba are typically surprised at the social progress Cuba has achieved in regard to health care, education, and other social welfare programs of the socialist state. The vitality of religious life in Cuba is especially intriguing as both Catholic and Protestant churches are thriving along with indigenous religions (Santeria), a small Jewish community, and two new Islamic mosques addressing the needs of a growing Muslim community which has come to Cuba largely for medical training at the Latin American Medical School in Havana.

While Cuba continues to struggle under a severe U.S. economic blockade, its tourist sector has grown to be the most vibrant component of its economy. Americans can still travel to Cuba and commercial flights arrive there daily with visitors from Europe, Canada, and other parts of the world.

The United Church of Christ will continue to nurture our long-standing relationship with our Cuban brothers and sisters. In 2020, the UCC Cuba Study Seminar will feature a unique emphasis on ‘the biblical call to social justice’ with leadership provided by Dr. Clint McCann, Eden Theological Seminary Professor of Old Testament and the Prophets. Each day in Cuba will include biblical study led by Dr. McCann while learning about and reflecting upon the revolutionary values of the Cuban social system. Next years’ trip will take place from January 30th through February 9th, 2020 and is designed with ordained clergy in mind (but others are welcome too!). For more information contact Rev. Tom Warren at ucccubastudy@gmail.com.