Quakers Build a Bridge of Friendship: Hanover Society Plans February Visit to Sister Church in Cuba
Susan Perry, of Etna, right, shows off her find to Carol Weingeist, of Hanover, left, while shopping at the Hanover Friends yard sale in Hanover, N.H. Saturday, October 26, 2013. The Quaker group is raising money for a trip to Havana, Cuba to meet with their sister church in February.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Dartmouth College students, from left, Molly Pugh, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., Jeni Hendricks, of Pawhusha, Okla., and Abiah Pritchard, of Charlottesville, Va., choose mugs from a box of free items at the Friends Meeting House yard sale in Hanover, N.H. Saturday, October 26, 2013. The sale was held to help fund a trip to connect with a Quaker congregation in Havana, Cuba.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Shoppers peruse the goods available at a yardsale held at the Hanover Friends Meeting House in Hanover, N.H. to raise money for a trip to Havana, Cuba Saturday, October 26, 2013.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Quakers from Wellesley, Mass., help paint a Quaker church in Cuba. The project was part of a decades-old exchange between New England and Cuban Quakers. In February, a group from the Hanover Friends Meeting will visit churches in Havana and the eastern city of Gibara. The trip, organized by Len and Mary Ann Cadwallader, of Hanover, is also part of Puente de Amigos, or Bridge of Friendship. Len Cadwallader photograph
Len Cadwallader, of Hanover, patches plaster in the Quaker church in Puerto Padre, Cuba. Cadwallader is one of a group of people from the Hanover Friends Meeting who will visit the country in February. Mary Ann Cadwallader photograph
Hanover — After a year of getting to know one another by email, this February, members of the Hanover Friends Meeting and their sister church in Havana will finally be able to talk face-to-face. Yesterday, a yard sale on the church’s leaf-speckled lawn raised more than $1,200 toward the trip.
Dana Zeilinger, who happened upon the sale by accident, seemed glad to hear of the connection between the Hanover event and Cuba, where longtime restrictions on churches have recently eased.
“I always like a good yard sale,” said Zeilinger, a self-described “lapsed Quaker” who lives in Lebanon. “And it goes to a good cause.”
During their upcoming visit, the group of seven or eight Quakers, or Friends, as they refer to themselves, will take part in the Cuban Quakers’ annual meeting and worship alongside their brethren in Havana and Gibara, a city in the eastern part of the country.
Hanover Quaker Len Cadwallader said the service project is “not a one-way street.”
“We have as much to learn from the Cubans as we hope to be able to give to them, in terms of our prayers and support,” said Cadwallader, who with his wife, Mary Ann, is organizing the visit. “It’s not in any kind of way patronizing or patriarchal.”
Under the United States’ decades-old embargo of Cuba, traveling to the country has been tricky. For Americans, accessing the island, just 90 miles from Florida, has meant “sneaking” in, often by way of Canada or Mexico.
But religious exchanges are among the types of travel sanctioned by the U.S. government, and the Hanover Friends group will carry visas issued by the U.S. government. “This is legitimate travel,” Cadwallader said.
It’s not new for members of the Religious Society of Friends in the two regions to commune — the trip is part of a more than 20-year-old relationship between Cuban and New England Quakers called Puente de Amigos, or Bridge of Friendship. But it’s only recently that the Hanover church became involved.
“This is a brand-new thing for us,” said Cadwallader, who, along with his wife visited the country last year with Quakers from Massachusetts.
During that trip, which was also part of Bridge of Friends, the group helped a Quaker church rebuild a community center, work that was prohibited until recently. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, all religions in the largely Catholic country were repressed.
“Whether they were Catholic or Episcopalian or Buddhist or Baptist or Quakers, they couldn’t put one penny into their church building,” Cadwallader said. “Any social service outreach, like schools, community centers and hospitals, were taken over by the government.”
But recently, those restrictions have been loosened.
“What is exciting to me and Mary Ann and other New England Quakers is that there’s a tremendous amount of outreach,” including a clown ministry for terminally ill children, a prison ministry and support for older adults, he said.
While most of the country’s Quakers live in the eastern part of the island, a new group sprang up recently in Havana, when Quaker families moved there for work. The Hanover Friends’ sister meeting, which rents space in an Episcopal church, is the capital city’s lone Quaker meeting, Cadwallader said.
As with any new relationship, it’s not yet clear what will develop between the churches. But when he’s envisioning the possibilities, such as exchanges between local and Cuban high schools, Cadwallader’s eyes light up.
“Imagine the opportunities that would unfold as we get to know each other,” he said. “We just need to think of enduring relationships, not just one-offs.”
For the moment, he’s excited at the prospect of praying with his fellow Quakers in Cuba.
“Wherever there’s been repression of religion, those people who have been able to remain faithful to their faith have had their faith tested in a crucible,” he said. “That makes it a deep and intense and thrilling to experience as somebody worshipping next to them.”
Yesterday, as shoppers checked out skis, artwork and dishware, Cadwallader took some time to describe Quakerism.
“Quakers believe there is that of God in each person. That’s why we are pacifists,” he said. “We also believe that God can speak directly to you,” without the involvement of a priest or minister.
The traditional New England services, referred to as “unprogrammed,” comprise long periods of silence punctuated by prayers or reflections from a parishioner. But in Cuba, that’s not the case.
Quaker churches there were established in the early 1900s by missionaries from Indiana, part of the pastoral branch of Quakers, Cadwallader said.
“Their service is not unlike a lot of other Protestant congregations, where there is a minister and sermons and hymns and Bible readings.”
The services he and his wife attended last year included plenty of singing, often with the song lyrics projected onto a screen.
“It’s a joyous worship of God,” he said.
Yesterday morning, standing outside the church, Mary Ann Cadwallader said she was excited to meet their Cuban colleagues, and reflected on the differences in their journeys.
Cuban Quakers who want to visit the New England meeting face “probably a 10-year waiting list,” she said, tearing up. “The people are just so friendly and pleased to have company. This is a window into the world which our embargo prevents.”
Aimee Caruso can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3210.