Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba Online

Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba Online
The Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba (CCOC) encompass three distinct archival collections: Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba (Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba, IPRC); Archive of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cuba (Seminario Evangélico de Teología, Matanzas, Cuba, SETC); and Archive of the Christian Student Movement of Cuba (Movimiento de Estudiantes Cristianos de Cuba, MECC), an affiliate of the World Student Christian Federation. These collections offer numerous possibilities for researchers interested not only in the history of Protestantism and Christian education but also provide windows onto Cuban history, society, and culture.

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Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba Online 
Introduction by Luis Martínez-Fernández, University of Central Florida

The Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba (CCOC) encompass three distinct archival collections: Archives of the Presbyterian Church of Cuba (Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba, IPRC); Archive of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cuba (Seminario Evangélico de Teología, Matanzas, Cuba, SETC); and Archive of the Christian Student Movement of Cuba (Movimiento de Estudiantes Cristianos de Cuba, MECC), an affiliate of the World Student Christian Federation. These collections offer numerous possibilities for researchers interested not only in the history of Protestantism and Christian education but also provide windows onto Cuban history, society, and culture.
Records in these collections date back to the first decade of the twentieth century and run up to the late 2010s. The vast majority are in Spanish, but some are in English, French, German or Portuguese; most are printed or typed, a small percentage are hand-written. Documents include correspondence, minutes, reports, programs, pamphlets, journals, bulletins, photographs, and other sources.
The largest of these archives, IPRC, includes a wide range of materials that are indispensable for the study of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba, and more broadly, the study of Protestantism in Cuba. SETC consists of documents of the Seminario Evangélico de Teología of Matanzas, Cuba, from its foundation in 1946 to the present. MECC consists of 58 folders with documents on the organization’s history, activities, and relations with related organizations between 1960 and 2018.

Historical Background
While there had been a small and sporadic Protestant presence on the island as far back as the early colonial era, the first formal congregations emerged only in 1871, following a short-lived declaration of religious tolerance for Spain and its colonies. These first congregations served primarily Havana’s resident and floating English-speaking Protestants. At the time, tens of thousands of Cuban political exiles resided in various US locations from Key West to New York City, where some joined Protestant churches. Following the end of the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) against Spain, some of these converts returned to the island and began to spread the work of various Protestant denominations. Cuban layman Evaristo Collazo established the first Presbyterian works in Havana in 1890 but had to close the mission five years later, when Cubans launched another war of independence against Spain.
The Presbyterian Church was officially established in Cuba by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) in December 1901, during US military occupation. Three years later, Cuba’s Presbyterians founded the Presbyter of Havana. During the Republican era (1902-1958) the Church experienced growth and expanded its religious, educational, and charitable work. Much reduced in number of congregants and freedoms, the Presbyterian Church persisted during the revolutionary period that began in 1959. In 1967, it became independent from PCUSA and was renamed Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba, IPRC. During the 1990s and first decade of the twenty-first century, this and other Protestant denominations experienced significant growth, as thousands of Cubans sought spiritual solace during the economic, social, and moral crisis of the Special Period.

Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba
This collection has four categories of documents. First, those pertaining to the national church, namely records of the National Presbyterate of Cuba (Presbiterio Nacional de Cuba), 1904-1967, and its successor Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba. The next category consists of records of around thirty individual congregations, most located in or near Havana and Matanzas. These include the First Havana Congregation founded in 1901, a Havana congregation of English speakers (1919-1926), and a small church that served Havana’s Chinese population (1938-1969). A third group consists of miscellaneous materials, among them documents of long-term rector of SET Reinerio Arce Valentín (including a letter signed by Raúl Castro) and a collection of theses written by Presbyterian clergy and laypeople. Lastly, the collection includes a wide range of issues of journals and bulletins published by Presbyterian, ecumenical, and international Christian organizations.
National church documents include a vast collection of materials by and on the church as well as correspondence with individual churches, US Presbyterian organizations, and various national and international institutions such as the Christian Student Movement of Cuba, the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Matanzas, the Commission for the Study of the History of the Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean (CEHILA), and the World Council of Churches.
Of great value are the folders of yearly assemblies which include minutes, reports, plans, budgets, etc. Also important are materials contained in the folders of various national committees, such as Construction and Repairs, Presbyterian Schools, and Relations with SET. Records also shed light on a variety of church-affiliated groups like the Union of Women of the Presbyterate of Havana (founded in 1926); the National Union of Presbyterian Youth of Cuba (founded in 1931); and their contemporary counterparts, Unión Nacional de Mujeres Presbiterianas and Unión Nacional de Jóvenes Presbiterianos. Anyone interested in the subject of religious or private education will find invaluable documentation, particularly sources of La Progresiva school in Cárdenas from its foundation in 1901 to its nationalization in 1961.
The collection also includes a large number of photographs (going back to the 1920s) divided into topical folders; for example, there is one on youth movements, one on La Progresiva, one on women’s organizations, and one with photos of pastors.
Collection highlights include various issues of La Progresiva yearbooks ( Juventa); illuminating documents on the subject of church and revolution, among them a stunning photograph of guerrilla fighters posing in front of a medical truck donated by a Presbyterian school to the 26th of July revolutionary movement; a 1960 primer ( Cartilla Cubana) co-published by the Cuban Council of Evangelical Churches and the National Alphabetization Commission; and a statement by the Superintendent of Presbyterian Schools welcoming the nationalization of private schools.
The bulk of individual church records consists of scores of libros de actas (books of minutes) of consistory meetings and regular meetings of congregants, clergy and church elders. Also included are minutes of different committees and associations, among them those kept by local men’s, women’s, and youth organizations, as well as Sunday schools and benevolence groups. These materials provide important information on a variety of topics ranging from clergy appointments and membership lists to budgets; for example, the rapid Cubanization of the clergy in the early years of the twentieth century and the role of women in various leadership positions and as educators. Records also provide insights on the participation and church activities of various ethnic and racial groups. There is a book of minutes of the consistory of an English-speaking congregation in Havana (1919-1926) and a particularly interesting set of bound volumes of the city’s Chinese congregation. There are also complete lists of members, and lists that state the reasons why particular individual members left the church: “indifference,” “moved to the US,” or “joined a Pentecostal church.”
Of great value to historians and genealogists are congregation records of baptism, marriage, and death. Because these records span over more than one hundred years, they allow researchers to recognize and track changes over time. For example, one can trace the growth of various congregations and gather important sociodemographic data on gender, ages, and socioeconomic composition.
While students of Latin American historical demography have, for many decades, made good use of Catholic baptismal, confirmation, marriage, and burial records, few have consulted similar sources of Protestant denominations.
Consultation of this archive will stimulate scholars to venture into a number of unexplored historical questions such as: Protestant positions vis-à-vis Catholicism and Afro-Cuban religions; the effects of the Cuban Revolution on Protestant churches and the impact of the consequent massive exile on church membership, attendance, and finances; and the role of the Presbyterian church during the profound economic and moral crisis of the Special Period.
Lastly, this archive includes the largest collection available of Presbyterian periodicals (bulletins, magazines, and journals). Most valuable among them, are a complete run of the monthly magazine Heraldo Cristiano (1919-1977), Unión Nacional de Jóvenes Presbiterianos’ bimonthly Juprecu (1978-2017), and the quarterly devotional publication Su Voz (1964-2010).
The Heraldo Cristiano is particularly useful for anyone interested the church’s history. Each edition consists of between fifteen and thirty-six pages of articles and regular sections such as family devotionals, Sunday school curricula, news from around the world, and up to the mid-1930s, a section called “Cuba Seca” (dry Cuba) devoted to the subject of temperance. The Heraldo Cristiano offers information on church happenings, clergy appointments, and a social notes section announcing births, baptisms, and marriages, as well as obituaries. It also has photographs of clergy, church buildings, and benevolent work at orphanages and retirement homes. One particularly telling photograph shows a half-burnt Bible, victim of the intolerant zeal of a Catholic priest. The magazine also carried ads for bookstores selling Christian books, Protestant schools, and other products and services.
The Heraldo Cristiano is also a valuable source to trace the relations of the denomination with various Cuban governments, particularly the revolutionary government since 1959. The February 24, 1959 issue, for example, carried a jubilant editorial entitled “La fiesta de la Patria liberada.” Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Presbyterian Church increased its support for the state and its official magazine included titles such as “Presencia del hombre protestante en la revolución.”

Archive of the Evangelical Theological Seminary
The Seminario Evangélico de Teología (SET) is an interdenominational Protestant seminary located in Matanzas, Cuba. It was founded in 1946 by representatives of Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopalian churches. It offers a range of bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees and is affiliated with the World Council of Churches. Over the decades, the seminary has published various journals and bulletins, including the ‘revista’ Cuba Teológica. Alfonso Rodríguez Hidalgo served as SET rector from 1946 until 1961, when he left Cuba; Sergio Arce Martínez from 1969 to 1984, and Reinerio Arce Valentín 1984-1993.
This collection consists of almost 40,000 scans of records and materials, divided into several groups: Foundational Documents, 1946-1949 (2 folders); Rare and Valuable Documents (29 folders); Correspondence, 1946-1986 (17 folders); National and International Events, 1975-2014 (48 folders); Peace Conferences (21 folders); Jornadas Teológicas (6 folders); Materials of Sergio Arce Martínez (65 folders); Materials of Professor René Castellanos (86 folders); Texts by National and International Figures (17 folders); MEC Documents (16 folders); and documents of the Conferencia Cristiana por la Paz, Latin America and the Caribbean (CCP-LAC) 21 folders that include documents of several annual conferences held in various Latin American and Caribbean countries. The collection also includes issues of different periodicals published by SET: Revista del SET Cuba Teológica (1982-present), Didajé (1998-present); and Analísis de la Realidad Actual (ARA).
This collection’s foundational documents provide valuable information on SET’s early years. Among them, we find the program of SET’s inauguration. One learns about the key role of founder Dr. Rodríguez Hidalgo, contributions from the United States, first curriculum, and faculty. Folders labeled Rare and Valuable include photographs, pamphlets, and bulletins. Among the hundreds of photographs is one of the construction of SET’s chapel (1955) and of a church meeting attended by Fidel Castro and US politician Jesse Jackson.
SET correspondence and other documents allow researchers to trace developments in Church-state relations. Several documents point to the church’s welcoming of the Revolution in 1959. Several letters between Rodríguez Hidalgo and E. A. Odell of the Presbyterian Board of National Missions reflect the escalation of “tensions” and “confusion” as early as April 1959. In very discrete fashion, Rodríguez Hidalgo increasingly expressed concerns about the erosion of religious liberties. One December letter from Odell inquires about the disappearance of two disaffected Presbyterians, apparently at the government’s hand. By late 1959, Rodríguez Hidalgo is no longer praising the Revolution. Some letters speak of ministries for Cuban “migrants”—exiles more accurately—resettled in the United States.
The collection also houses texts and other materials by Arce Martínez, Castellanos, and other figures, including Arce Martínez’s master’s thesis and diploma, dozens of note books written by Castellanos, and an 1872 sermon by Rev. Joaquín de Palma. Other authors include Adolfo Ham, Rodríguez Hidalgo, and Ofelia Ortega.
While not directly affiliated with SET, papers of The International Christian Conference for Peace, Latin America and the Caribbean (Conferencia Cristiana por La Paz, CCP-LAC) are included in this archive. The Christian Peace Conference was formed in Prague in 1958 and expanded its work to Latin America in 1975. Its first conference in the hemisphere took place in Panama in 1978, followed by a conference in Matanzas (1979), and several others over the next decade in different countries of Latin America. Cuba hosted the 1983 conference but could not host one scheduled for 1994 due to lack of resources. Events included international conferences with leading theologians and scholars, such as Harvey Cox, Ernesto Cardenal, Frei Beto, Sergio Arce Martínez, Raúl Gómez Treto, Pierre Bastián, and Luis Rivera Pagán.

Note: The Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba contains thirty SET theses.

Archive of the Christian Student Movement
Cuba’s Movimiento Estudiantil Cristiano (MEC) was founded in 1960, the second year of the Cuban Revolution, as a Christian ecumenical organization with representation from the main branches of Christianity. Partner churches and denominations have included the Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Reformed, and Pentecostal churches, and the Church of Christ and Church of God. It is an autonomous affiliate of the World Student Christian Federation (Federación Universal de Movimientos Estudiantiles Cristianos, FUMEC), founded in 1895. MEC is a member of the Cuban Council of Churches; it maintains active relations and correspondence with numerous island-wide and international religious organizations, among them its local chapters, Cuba’s national churches, SET, the World Council of Churches, FUMEC and its Latin American and Caribbean regional organization.
This archive consists of nearly 14,000 scans of materials dated 1960 to 2018, organized into sixty folders. It includes a wide range of documents: correspondence, minutes, year plans, assembly and event programs, reports, budgets, bulletins, pamphlets, photographs, and devotional and liturgical resources.
The majority of these materials are labeled Documentos Varios (various documents). These include two folders of materials from the 1960s and 1970s that include MEC’s Constitution (1961) and other foundational materials.
The Archive has a large component of documents pertaining to FUMEC and its regional Latin American and Caribbean organization. Among these are FUMEC’s 1980 rules and regulations and numerous publications on subjects such as human rights, anti-imperialism, and women’s organizations. One folder holds valuable materials on FUMEC’s Encuentro Europa-América Latina y el Caribe, an international conference on the consequences of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas (Quito, Ecuador, 1991). These and related documents offer valuable information for researchers interested in the broader subjects of Liberation Theology and ecumenism.
MEC’s materials provide windows into revolutionary Cuba’s history. For example, documents about discussions on the ongoing Rectification of Errors Campaign of 1986-1988; on the deepening crisis of the Special Period, i. e., a report from a particular congregation informing that it could no longer publish its bulletin because it lacked a typewriter, paper, and other materials; and sources documenting Cuba’s economy hitting rock bottom in 1993, i.e., bulletin articles on growing income and social inequality.
MEC’s extensive photo collection focuses on particular events (1980-2014); two folders, for example, include pictures of excursions to Germany.
Dozens of lose numbers of journals and bulletins appear in different Documentos Varios folders and in folders specifically dedicated to such materials. Titles include Boletín Impacto (bimonthly bulletin of MEC-Matanzas); Boletín NIKE and MEC’s Encuentro (2013-2017)

Note: The Archive of the Evangelical Theological Seminary includes sixteen folders on MEC.

Luis Martínez-Fernández, Ph.D. is Professor of History at the University of Central Florida. His fields of research include society, culture and religion in the Caribbean. He is the author of Protestantism and Political Conflict in the Nineteenth-Century Hispanic Caribbean (Rutgers University Press, 2002).

Recommended Readings
Arce Martínez, Sergio. Cuba un pensamiento teológico revolucionario: material de las jornadas Camilo Torres, 1971-1983. Matanzas: Centro de Estudios, Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba, 1992.
Arce Martínez, Sergio. La misión de la Iglesia en una sociedad socialista: un análisis teológico de la vocación de la Iglesia Cubana en el día de hoy. Havana: Caminos, 2004.
Cepeda, Rafael and Roberto Porto. Apuntes para una historia del presbiterianismo en Cuba. Havana: Ediciones Su Voz, [1986].
Corse, Theron Edward. Protestants, Revolution and the Cuba-US Bond. Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2007.
Esqueda, Octavio. “Theological Higher Education in Cuba: Part 2: Origins and Ministry of Protestant Seminaries.” Christian Higher Education 6, no. 1 (2007): 15-28.
Fernández-Albán, Ary. Cuba; Decolonizing Theology in Revolution: A Critical Retrieval of Sergio Arce´s Theological Thought. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018.
Gómez Treto, Raúl. The Church and Socialism in Cuba. New York: Orbis Books, 1988.
Koll, Karla Ann. “Volcanic Revolution on the Home Mission Field: Response of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to the Revolution in Cuba.” The Journal of Presbyterian History. 82, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 149-168.
Pérez, Jr., Louis A. “Protestant Missionaries in Cuba: Archival Records, Manuscript Collections, and Research Prospects.” Latin American Research Review 27:1 (1992), 105-120.
Potter, Philip and Thomas Wieser. Seeking and Serving the Truth: The First Hundred Years of the World Student Christian Federation. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997.
Ramírez Calsadilla, Jorge and Ofelia Pérez Cruz. La religión en los jóvenes cubanos: ortodoxia y espontaneidad. Havana: Editorial Academia, 1997.
Yaremko, Jason M. U.S. Protestant Missions in Cuba: From Independence to Castro. Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2000.
Young, David P. Cuba and the Presbyterian Church: More than One Hundred Years of Faithful Witness. Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1991.

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Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba Online, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2019 <>