Though we in the United States often think of the Episcopal Church as an American denomination, in fact there are Episcopal dioceses in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. The Diocese of Haiti is actually the largest diocese of the church, with almost 90,000 members.
The Episcopal Church has a long history in Haiti. The Haitian revolution in 1793 outlawed slavery in that island nation, and as a result it became a haven for many Black people fleeing enslavement worldwide.
The Right Reverend James Theodore Holly, the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Church, founded the first Episcopal mission in Haiti during the U.S. Civil War, becoming the diocese’s first bishop in 1874. Holly was a strong advocate of emigration from the United States to Haiti for freed slaves and worked to obtain support from TEC’s Board of Missions for the new endeavor in the island in Haiti, over the objections of many White clergy.
Recent immigration has brought many Haitian Episcopalians to our diocese, as well as Haitian converts from the Roman Catholic Church. According to a 2021 article in New Jersey Monitor, the state has the fourth-largest Haitian population in the country, with 68,000 Haitians living mainly in Union and Essex Counties. There are also growing populations of the Haitian community in Central and South Jersey, including Asbury Park, Trenton, Willingboro, and the Pleasantville/Atlantic City area.
“Many are not aware that the diocese of Haiti is the largest in the Episcopal church,” said the Rev. Robin Pierre, the Diocese of New Jersey’s missioner for Haitian ministries. “As our churches are facing dwindling numbers we believe it’s part of our call to welcome home Episcopalians to our diocese.”
Himself a Haitian immigrant to New Jersey, Fr. Pierre leads a Haitian congregation at St. John’s in Elizabeth and has been helping churches throughout the diocese—St Paul’s in Camden, Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, Christ the King in Willingboro, Trinity Asbury Park, and most recently St Mary’s Pleasantville—to nurture burgeoning Haitian communities. Fr. Pierre is available to congregations in the diocese interested in serving the Haitian community and can be reached via email.
Many diocesan communications are available in Haitian Creole, including the Website. A drop-down menu on every page allows the user to choose their preferred language. Reflecting the increasing diversity of the diocese, in addition to Haitian Creole, language choices include English, Spanish, and Igbo.