Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba Online

Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba Online
The Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba (IPRC) are part of the Archives of Christian Churches and Organizations in Cuba (CCOC). This recently enlarged collection makes available for research the records of the Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba (IPRC) and predecessor Presbyterian churches and missions in Cuba. It 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.

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Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba Online
Introduction by Luis Martínez-Fernández, University of Central Florida

The Archives of the Presbyterian Church in Cuba (IPRC) makes available for research the records of the Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada en Cuba (IPRC) and predecessor Presbyterian churches and missions in Cuba. It 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.

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.

The Archive
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.”

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 the Presbyterian Church in Cuba Online, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2019 <>