DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Church thrives despite worldwide Anglican dispute
The Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic -- one of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church's 12 overseas dioceses -- has tripled in size during the past 15 years, and has grown from 1,500 members to 8,000. Its schools have increased from seven to 23, and its clergy have seen a boost from 13 to 39.
Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin told Ecumenical News International that the diocese is virtually untouched by the current controversy concerning human sexuality in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.
"In terms of our diocese, there aren't many tensions. We say the mission of our church here has two arms," Holguin said. "One for proclaiming the gospel and the other for providing services to the people."
Those services, which expand constantly, include nutrition programs for children, a new home for the elderly, medical missionaries stationed throughout the country, and the provision of educational resources ranging from school materials, scholarships and teacher recruitment to the planning and construction of new buildings. Hundreds of volunteers from North America also come each year to help with the mission of the church.
Bob Snow, who has served in Santo Domingo as a missionary to the diocese for 12 years, told ENI that against the background of the controversy concerning sexuality, he has been reminded that "mission can heal the church. We have people on both sides of the issue who come here. It is refreshing to see how they work together."
Snow said that each year an average of 45 teams of volunteers come from the U.S. to work for a week on specialty projects, such as dental check-ups, construction of church pews or assistance in children's Bible schools. Teams range from as few as five people to as many as 95. He said that once people get onto Dominican soil, they focus on the work before them and set aside doctrinal differences.
However, the church in this Caribbean nation has significant political challenges within its own borders.
"Probably our greatest difficulties are of an ecumenical nature" because of the Roman Catholic Church's overwhelming political strength within the national government, Snow said. Catholics account for 95 percent of the country's nearly 9.4 million people.
Non-Catholic clergy are not permitted as chaplains inside prisons. The Dominican government also does not recognize marriage ceremonies conducted outside the Catholic Church, and pays for Catholic bishops' homes, and gives the denomination a tax break that other religious organizations do not enjoy.