By Melissa Hinnen
By allowing the Spirit to move in creative ways, the Methodist Church in Cuba is dancing, singing, and spreading scriptural holiness over the land. Since 1999, the church has grown from 8,000 to 36,000 members. Bishop Ricardo Pereira encourages congregations to live out their Wesleyan theology in ways that are uniquely Cuban.
"The Methodist Church in Cuba uses Caribbean liturgy because it allows people to express themselves with authenticity and freedom," the bishop said on a recent visit to the New York City offices of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. (Click here to view video)
According to Bishop Pereira, recent history in the island nation has produced a generation of atheists who don't know about God's love for them. Young people in particular are drawn to a church that embraces Cuban culture and welcomes everyone in the community regardless of their faith or political background.
"We have taught pastors and laity that they can engage their Cuban heritage by praising the Lord, dancing, and raising their voices in worship as they do on the street," said Bishop Pereira. "This makes the church attractive, especially to young people." Members are generally 35-45 years old, and the average age of clergy is 30.
To address the needs created by rapid church growth, five years ago the Methodist Church of Cuba established the Evangelical Methodist Seminary in Havana. "In the midst of so many doctrines," said Bishop Pereira, it was important to provide a "theological formation that would be eminently Methodist and Wesleyan."
Today there are more than 350 pastors in Cuba. "At the moment we have about 120 students pursuing their degree in theology," said Bishop Pereira. The seminary is also extending its training to reach an additional 800 people throughout the country, preparing them for church leadership.
The Methodist Church exists in 92 percent of Cuba's municipalities. Reaching into their Wesleyan roots, many congregations worship in house churches. They regularly meet in small groups to study the Bible and pray together.
In addition to lively worship, contemplative prayer, theological formation, and Bible study, the Methodist Church in Cuba is intentional in living out the gospel in ways that influence society.
"For example, we have ministries that support seniors and vulnerable families, particularly those headed by single mothers," Bishop Pereira explained. "We want to have all the good things of the gospel come to pass in our country."
For nearly 20 years, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission has sent a team to Cuba every month for two weeks at a time. In addition to providing medicine, clothing, and tools, the teams build homes and parsonages and renovate churches. Those interested in volunteering can contact Aldo Gonzalez, National Coordinator for UMVIM Cuba.
United Methodists can support church growth in Cuba. Last month, Global Ministries released more than $50,000 to Advance projects in Cuba. Among the funds released included those to repair churches and offer assistance to the needy, for evangelical outreach ministry, leadership development of women, and seminary scholarships. To contribute to church and leadership development and other ministries of the Methodist Church in Cuba, please make a gift to an Advance project such as the Evangelical Methodist Seminary Scholarships, #3020760.