Wednesday, 2 July 2008

At Swanwick with USPG (1)

The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2008)

Patrick Comerford

The Lambeth Conference is just around the corner, and USPG – Anglicans in World Missions is delighted that three Anglican primates, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Archbishop of Myanmar and the Archbishop of Brazil, are at Swanwick this week for USPG’s conference and council meeting.

It is almost 30 years since I last stayed at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, in a beautiful part of Derbyshire. In those days, I stayed in the old country house, built by the Fitzherbert Wright family. Since then, there’s been a lot of improvement and building, and I have a room overlooking the Hayes Lake.

Unfortunately, a three-line whip in the House of Commons forced the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, Shahid Malik, to cancel his talk on his role as the minister responsible for partnerships with faith communities.

Whatever other conferences may claim though, global Anglicanism at its best is present at this week’s conference in Swanwick, including the newest woman bishop in the Anglican Communion in Australia, Barbara Darling, as well as other participants from Anglican Churches in 16 countries – Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Burma (Myanmar), England, Ireland, North India, the Philippines, Scotland, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Tanzania, the United States, Wales, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In a question-and-answer session, Archbishop Mauricio Andrade of Brazil spoke of the sad divisions in Recife and Bishop Saulo de Barros spoke of the exciting new opportunities in the vast and scattered diocese of Amazonia.

When she was asked about women bishops, Bishop Barbara Darling said she would prefer to discuss “choosing the right person that God has called for the job.”

Ms Clare Amos spoke of the Anglican value of “diversity in unity” but said while this was easily expressed theoretically it needed personal, spiritual and practical expressions too.

Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe (Sri Lanka) spoke of the close co-operation between all faith communities in Sri Lanka, where there is a divided country and a divided people but where “we have to work together.”

And Linda Chambers spoke of the new structures in USPG Ireland and the new opportunities and challenges these present.

But perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was an address by Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo of Myanmar. The Church of the Province of Myanmar, which dates back 130 years, is a tiny community with 70,000 Anglicans in six dioceses in Burma. He has been a bishop for only 2½ years, and primate since January this year.

He gave a very graphic description of how Anglicans in Burma are engaging with the relief efforts in the wake of the devastating cyclone that hit Burma a few months ago. USPG has already sent over £30,000 to the Anglican Church in Burma to help that work, including £10,000 that came from the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund through USPG Ireland.

He said: “The Church needs to be an instrument for materialising the new heaven and the new earth ... I love, therefore I am; this is God's logic.”

The chapel at Swanwick

Later in the evening we heard about USPG’s work in over 50 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America, and were told: “Life sometimes requires spontaneous gestures of God's love.” Once again we heard from the Church in Myanmar (Burma) about putting the Gospel into action through ways of showing God’s compassion that reaches into people’s hearts.

Archbishop Alan Harper will speak at the conference on Friday morning on “Looking Forward to Lambeth.”

The other speakers, preachers and guets at the conference this week include Bishop Michael Doe, General Secretary of USPG since 2004; the Revd Alan Moses, Vicar of Saints’, Margaret Street, and chair of USPG’s trustees; Linda Hall, deputy chair of USPG; Bishop Jo Seoka of Pretoria; Canon Edgar Ruddock, Deputy General Secretary of USPG; Canon Rob Jones, Director of Development for Worcester Diocese; and the Revd Catherine Dyer, who has been an active campaigner for women in the priesthood and works for USPG in the Diocese of Salisbury.

It was soothing and calming to end a long day in the beautiful chapel at Swanwick.

Canon Patrick Comerford is a member of the board of USPG Ireland and Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College