A group of Episcopal priests of West Indian descent met this week in Arlington to strengthen their cultural ties to the Anglican Church in the Caribbean, and to find ways to improve their ministries in the United States.
"The priests who have come to this country are strangers in a strange land, and sometimes they tend to forget where they come from, so we need to remind them," said the Right Rev. Herman Spence, Bishop of the Anglican Church in Kingston, Jamaica. "My plea is for these clergy to share with the brothers back home what they have, not money, but their talents and intellect."
Spence presides over about 11,000 people in 34 parishes. He was among the guest speakers at the three-day Caribbean Anglican Consultation, which brought together 42 of the 130 West Indian clerics in the Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Kortright Davis, a native of Antigua who is pastor of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, said the gathering was sort of an alumni meeting for clergy "who were not only born in the West Indies, but trained in the West Indies."
Davis said he hoped the meeting would "build a stronger bridge of solidarity and understanding between the Episcopalians from the Caribbean and the rest of the Episcopal Church." But Davis, who is a professor of theology at Howard University, said West Indians "can't build those bridges until they fully understand their own identity."
"Episcopalians in this country understand, but not well enough, the religious traditions which are common to West Indians," Davis said. "The clergy have problems of adjustment to the United States, the different lifestyles . . . . The West Indian culture is a culture of poverty, but in the United States it is a culture of wealth, and so it possesses new challenges.
"It is harder for someone of poverty to minister to someone in a culture of wealth. Materialism is very strong and the social values are far different and the stress on the family is different."
Clergy of West Indian descent must also adjust to the fact that the church's relationship with its members is different in the United States, where people tend to be less dependent on the church for leadership, Davis said.
In the West Indies, the church is a much stronger moral voice in the lives of the people, Davis said. There also are differences in the style of worship. In the West Indies, he said, there is more congregational participation and it is more reflective of the local culture.
On Wednesday night, the clergy took a break from their meeting to celebrate a Solemn Pontifical High Mass at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington. The Right Rev. Don Taylor, bishop of the Anglican Church in the Virgin Islands, was the senior church official in attendance.
Davis said this meeting was held in the United States rather than in Jamaica because this is where the priests are working. "We have very little occasion to fellowship with each other because we are scattered throughout the U.S.," he said.
With the fellowship came an opportunity to educate each other, Davis said. "A minister from San Francisco said in ministering to others, we need to also pay attention to ministering to one another as ministers. It meant a lot to me, because we are always giving and giving and giving and we can suffer from burnout."
The Anglican church is the largest church in the English-speaking West Indies.
There are 250,000 black Episcopalians in the United States, but there is no separate tally of how many of them are of West Indian ancestry.