Pamela Nesbit, Anglican Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania is this week attending a graduation ceremony of 21 diaconal students in the Diocese of Haiti, who are graduating from their studies at the Episcopal Seminary.
The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti*, established in 1861, is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church with over 83,700 members and over 100 congregations.
Pamela has been asked to be their "Godmother". Pamela is travelling with Deacon Holly Hartman and Gibi Garner (a parishioner from the Cathedral where Pamela is in ministry) is originally from Haiti.
Pamela plans to speak to the graduates in their own language (Haitian Creole), with the help of Gibi, to tell the graduates how proud everyone is of them and that they and their nation are being held in prayer on Tuesday, November 8th, when the graduation will take place at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Holy Trinity Cathedral has been destroyed six times, including major damage in the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010 that killed more than 300,000 people, seriously injured more than 250,000 and left 1.3 million people homeless. Untold numbers of private and public buildings were also destroyed throughout the country including Holy Trinity Cathedral, as well as other buildings on its campus.
The interior murals of the church were famous as they depicted various stories form the Bible using only people of black African heritage. All the images had a local perspective, with Jesus carrying a Haitian flag as he ascended to heaven, and a last supper that unlike some famous depictions does not portray Judas with darker skin that the other disciples. Of the 14 renowned murals that adorned the interior of the Cathedral only 3 smaller murals survived the destruction - The Last Supper, Native Procession and The Baptism of Christ, and each work bears the wounds of the vicious tremor that killed 300,000 people. The paintings' winding cracks, running through legs, through torsos, and through the neck of a dark-skinned woman in the baptism scene who seems to be screaming, are violent and painful.
Members of the Cathedral have been continuing to worship in a semi-temporary structure, and rebuilding is taking place.
The plans to rebuild the Cathedral were announced in 2013, with the site being cleared for redevelopment in 2015. Like ancient cathedrals around the world, Holy Trinity is a powerful focal point for faith and spirituality, as well as for light, art, and education. It also serves as a sacramental sign of God's promise that devastation and destruction are not the end.
Pamela notes, 'I figure being in Haiti with all its many challenges will give me some perspective on the challenges that we in the U.S. are facing (on election day 2016)'.
A brief history of the establishment of the Diocese of Haiti
The King of northern Haiti from 1807 to 1820, Henri Christophe, vowed to make the Anglican Church the official state religion. This was part of his efforts to eliminate vestiges of French colonialism, and his adoption of English education methods and English language as the medium in the court system. However, the king committed suicide in 1820, and with the reunification of Haiti the plans to introduce Anglicanism faded.
In 1855, a young Deacon in the Episcopal Church of the United States named James Theodore Holly made a trip to study the possibility of migration of black Americans in Haiti following a civil war started in the United States. It was his first trip to Haiti. He returned in 1861, with 110 emigrants to install a mission of the Episcopal Church of which he was to be their leader. During this visit, a terrible epidemic of malaria and typhoid swept through the area, and 43 of the emigrants died. The rest returned to the United States apart from Holly and 20 others who remained in Haiti to continue the mission of establishing the Church. In 1863 the first service was held, and on May 25th, the Day of Pentecost, the parish of the 'Holy Trinity' was established, the first step towards recognition by the Episcopal Church of the United States.
In 1949, the Church invited Haitian artists to paint murals on the interior walls. Recognised as masterpieces for their artistic and cultural merit, these murals depict various stories from the Bible using people of African heritage as the characters. In all, 14 of these huge paintings were completed.
At the centenary anniversary of the Episcopal Church of Haiti in May 1961, it was noted that there had been 34,000 baptisms, and that there were 76 missions, 94 stations, 24 priests and 136 lay people, with 64 schools added to the provinces and rural areas, and 3 to the capital (Port-au-Prince), a theological seminary and 3 medical clinics.
This year, 2016, celebrates 155 years of the establishment of the Diocese of Haiti.