By Jeffrey S. Boshart
From June 9-11, as part of an ongoing attempt by the Global Mission office of the Church of the Brethren in the US to encourage unity and reconciliation in the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic (Iglesia de los Hermanos Republica Dominicana), retired pastor Alix Sable of Lancaster, Pa., and Global Food Initiative (GFI) manager Jeff Boshart met with church leaders. They discussed a plan to help address structural institutional issues leading to hurt and separation between culturally Dominican, Spanish-speaking congregations and predominantly culturally Haitian, Kreyol-speaking congregations.
Meetings were held in Las Yayas with the board of the church in the DR, and later in Guerra with the leadership of the Community of Faith (Communidad de Fe). The latter is made up of Kreyol-speaking congregations of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The visit coincided with the annual conference of Communidad de Fe.
The two groups separated nearly five years ago in February 2019 during an annual conference (“asamblea” in Spanish) when a proposal seeking equal representation in board positions from the two sides of the church failed to be ratified. Tensions existed before the conference, and many pastors from the Communidad de Fe boycotted the conference over grievances of unfair treatment and racism, although they were in attendance and did not vote on the proposal when it was brought to the floor. Dominican delegates who voted against the proposal felt that the accusations were unfounded as the board at the time was balanced and that a special rule or quota system was unnecessary as members from Kreyol-speaking congregations have held all top positions in the church, including moderator and president. At the time the out-going president was of Haitian descent.
A draft of a plan calling for two separate districts was developed by Dominican American pastors in the Church of the Brethren in the US, who are members of the Country Advisory Team for Global Mission. The paper was presented to church leaders in the DR in advance of the meeting. Sable read through the proposal with each group and he and Boshart fielded questions. All expressed the need for more time to discuss the plan, which calls for the formation of a seven-member commission consisting of equal representation from Iglesia de los Hermanos Republica Dominicana and Communidad de Fe, plus one member of the Country Advisory Team from the US. This commission would approve budgets and projects and oversee the distribution of funds to each district.
The visit served to highlight the substantial differences that exist. A major question relates to the division of churches into districts, whether it be along geographical or ethnic/cultural lines. Any plan needs to be reconciled with the organizational by laws and constitution as registered with the Dominican government and ratified by the annual conference or asamblea.
Both the Iglesia de los Hermanos Republica Dominicana and Communidad de Fe leaders feel positive in general about the draft plan, even though significant hesitations remain over some provisions in the document. A next step that came from the meetings was a call for an extraordinary asamblea to be called to amend the plan. No date was given. Thanks was expressed from leaders of both groups for the obvious care and concern of the US church for the Dominican churches during this time of painful separation. Sable and Boshart frequently heard statements of appreciation for the beliefs and practices of the Church of the Brethren. Despite their separation, both Iglesia de los Hermanos Republica Dominicana and Communidad de Fe continue to focus on evangelism and church growth.
As part of the visit, Boshart was able to meet with members of the national committee or board of the Haitian Church of the Brethren (Mission Evangelique de l’Eglise des Freres d’Haiti) who continue to relate to both groups in the DR through regular visits to conferences. Haitian Brethren leaders shared about damage done by recent storms as well as ongoing struggles with violence and instability in Haiti. They reported that many of their congregations have outgrown their buildings. Staff working with ministries such as the Haiti Medical Project and GFI-sponsored agriculture work have relocated to the northern part of Haiti, which remains relatively safer and more stable.
— Jeffrey S Boshart is manager of the Global Food Initiative for the Church of the Brethren.
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