Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Communion as noun and verb

Two groups from USPG Ireland on the terrace at High leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, this morning before the closing Eucharist at the USPG Conference

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG – Anglicans in World Mission) came to an end this afternoon after our concluding Eucharist at High Leigh. Today is the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist. The former Scottish primus, Bishop Idris Jones, presided, using the Eucharist of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the preacher was the Most Revd Purely Lyngdoh, Moderator of the Church of North India.

In her concluding reflection this morning, Dr Jenny Plane Te Paa from Aotearoa/New Zealand, spoke generously of how she had found the conference “purposeful, mutually enriching and faith-filled.” It was a remarkably pastoral conference, she told us, with opportunities to speak and listen, inquire and affirm, enriching her life and her ministry.

Speaking of the current crisis and divisions within the Anglican Communion, she pressed the need for vulnerable engagement, quietly charitable servant-hood behaviour, marked by forgiveness, compassion and reconciliation.

She reminded us that Communion is both a noun and a verb, and that it describes both who we are and what we are called to do.

Speakers from the floor included one of the newest staff members, Stephanie Mooney, Link Officer for Africa and the Indian Ocean. The Revd Canon George Wauchope, of SOCMS, Birmingham, spoke from his South African experience of how reconciliation and justice must be inseparable, but how justice has been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Two ordinands from Saint Michael’s College, Llandaff (the Church in Wales) also spoke from the floor: Jennifer Hood and Heidi-Maria de Gruchy, who expressed her hope that we could see one another as Christ sees us with eyes of love and in God’s image and likeness.

The Revd Dr James Walters (Diocese of London) spoke passionately about the urgency of solidarity, declaring that “now is the time to stand up for the poor.”

The new chair of USPG, Canon Linda Ali (York) expressed generous appreciation for the hard work of the staff. She described USPG as a tremendous family, and pointed to the mission companions and their families who had shared their experiences in the interest groups out of difficult, challenging situations.

She reminded us that the BNP has a “warped view of Jesus” and underlined the need “to get to the people before they get to them” as part of mission too.

The Revd Michael Chatfield, who has completed his time as a USPG mission companion in Trinidad, spoke of it as a place where many people have lost hope, and pointed to how we could and must find hope in the God who loves us.

Tuesday’s guest speaker was the former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop Idris Jones, and throughout the three days, time and again, speakers took the opportunity to offer their congratulations to and prayers for the Revd Canon Dr Chad Gandiya, Regional Desk Officer for Africa and the Indian Ocean, who has been elected Bishop of Harare.

Earlier yesterday, Canon Edgar Ruddock, USPG’s International relations director and Deputy General Secretary, spoke of the planned USPG visit to the Holy Land next year from 3 to 12 May. He reminded us of the plight of the shrinking Christian community in Palestine and Israel, which had been described in workshops yesterday by Janina Zang, former USPG mission partner in Jerusalem.

He said those taking part in the visit would stay in Palestinian hotels that do not benefit from the same tax breaks as Israeli hotels. But while this would mean the visit was dearer than other pilgrimages, it also benefits the Palestinian economy.

Canon Patrick Comerford is a member of the board of USPG Ireland and of the council of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission