Virginia missionaries spend week visiting church in Cuba

Posted Jan 22, 2015

[St. James’s Episcopal Church – Richmond, Virginia] Thirteen missionaries from St. James’s Episcopal Church returned on January 17 from Cuba after a week within the Episcopal Church of Cuba working on a variety of projects including the development of a rural retreat named after a Virginian, Bishop Alexander Hugo Blankingship, who was the diocese’s Bishop from 1939 until the Cuban Revolution, reported The Reverend Carmen Germino, associate rector of St. James’s.

“It was exciting to be back in Cuba just after hearing the news of our governments’ thawing relationship,” said Germino.

“While the economic needs in Cuba are still immense, we felt a palpable spirit of hope from our friends there. The development of Camp Blankingship will only increase that sense of optimism and unity. The forty-four Episcopal churches in Cuba are separated by great distances, and Camp Blankingship will offer a central meeting place in a beautiful setting,” she explained.

Planning for the trip began in mid-2014 as a result of initial visits to the country in 2013 as part of an inter-faith team that included members from Temple Beth Ahabah and St. James’s, neighbors in faith on West Franklin Street in Richmond.

“On our initial trip, I felt an incredibly strong attraction to the Blankingship project,” said DeWitt Casler, one of the mission team in 2013 who returned to Cuba in 2014 on a church fact-finding trip and as part of the 2015 mission.

“When Bishop Griselda started talking about [Blankingship’s] dream of a youth camp, I felt that there was a reason for this connection and attraction,” he explained.

Bishop Blankingship’s daughter, Toni Donovan, lives in Richmond and worships at St. James’s. She and her family arrived here after fleeing Havana in 1961 as Castro turned the Cuban government towards communism. One of her sons, Anthony Donovan, was on the recent mission and represented the family’s hopes for Camp Blankingship. That retreat was the recipient of a 2014 United Thank Offering grant from the Episcopal Church Women’s foundation through the Diocese of Florida’s Cuba Committee to continue work on the project.

Germino added, “Bishop Blankingship’s legacy in the Cuban Episcopal churches is strong, even after many years. We met Cubans who were confirmed and ordained by him decades ago, and still remember him fondly. The Blankingship family’s ongoing connection to the Church of Cuba was fortified when Anthony presented Bishop Griselda with a gift—his grandfather’s framed Certificate of Consecration as a Bishop. It was a heartwarming moment.”

Missionaries this past week were DeWitt Casler, Anne Daniel, Anthony Donovan, Jane Dowrick, Carol Ann Fuller, Sam Fuller, the Reverend Carmen Germino, Edward Leake,  Judy Philpott, Moses Reid, Zach Reid, Barbara Robinson, and Bobbie Smith.

St. James’s Episcopal Church is at 1205 West Franklin Street near Virginia Commonwealth University.  It was established in 1835 and has been located at the intersection of West Franklin and Birch Streets since 1912. Over the past twenty years, St. James’s has sent over 600 missioners on sixty trips, making it one of the most active mission programs in the Episcopal Church.

For more information, visit the church’s website at