Monday, 25 June 2012

‘Face to Face’ with USPG in High Leigh

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon … the venue for this year’s USPG conference, ‘Face to Face’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in England again for the Annual Conference of USPG, which begins this afternoon [25 June 2012], and which continues until lunchtime on Wednesday [27 June 2012].

‘Face to Face’ is the theme for this year’s USPG conference, which is taking place in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in the Lea Valley, Hertfordshire, near Hertford (6.4 km), Bishop’s Stortford (18 km), Stansted Airport and Cambridge.
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Throughout the week, the conference provides an opportunity to meet leaders and programme organisers from Anglican Churches around the world and to learn about new ways of engaging with mission that can be taken back to parishes and dioceses.

This afternoon, in two sessions, we have an opportunity to review the work of USPG since our conference in High Leigh last year, and to hear how USPG is reaching out to new friends. Later this evening we meet international guests and hear their stories.

The guests at this week’s conference include:

● Sister Kasthuri Manickam, the centre superintendent for the Women Workers’ Training Centre in Nagalapuram, South India;
● The Revd Canon Rob Penrith, the Rector of Saint John’s Church in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Tomorrow morning [Tuesday] begins with the Eucharist celebrated according to the West Indies rite by the Revd Dr Ian Rock, Principal of Codrington College in Barbados. Later in the morning, there will be opportunities in the workshops to hear from Sister Kasthuri Manickam and Canon Rob Penrith about how people of all ages can benefit from USPG’s Experience Exchange Programme (EEP), which puts volunteers of all ages on placement with the world church.

The EEP volunteers who are going to share their experiences include Helen Ledger and Catriona Macdonald, who have been in South Africa, and Faye Woollard and Hannah Silcock, who have been in India.

For about 50 years, the EEP programme has given over 400 volunteers what is often a life-changing experience. Volunteers have taught in schools, worked on health projects, supported vocation training and agricultural initiatives, work on youth projects, and much more.

Other overseas visitors to the conference include Bishop Jacob Ayeebo from Ghana and Archbishop Edward Malecdan from the Philippines. The Bishop of Guyana and friends from Malawi and Zambia are also expected, along with students and staff from the Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies in Birmingham.

Tomorrow’s [Tuesday’s] programme is also designed so that it can be enjoyed as a Special Day Conference. After the meeting of the Council of USPG and dinner, the evening programme will feature worship and celebration with the singer-songwriter and human rights activist Garth Hewitt, and what promises to be “a special evening of songs and thought-provoking chat.”

On Wednesday morning, we are due to discuss proposed changes in USPG. Janette O’Neill has been in office for just over a year as General Secretary, and is reporting on a more stable year in the life of USPG, explaining the development of the new programmes and letting us know about plans for future work.

Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel and Ossory, who is a Trustee of USPG and chair of the boards of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland, is to preside at the closing Eucharist later on Wednesday morning, using the Eucharistic rite of the Church of Ireland.

During the conference, there shall be farewells too to Linda Ali, who steps down as chair of the Trustees of USPG, although she remains a member of council. The new chair is the Revd Canon Christopher Chivers, Vicar of John Keble Church, Mill Hill, in the Diocese of London. He is a former as Canon Precentor of both Saint George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, Precentor of Westminster Abbey, London, and Canon Chancellor of Blackburn Cathedral. He is a published composer whose choral works have been sung by the choirs of King’s College, Cambridge, Westminster Abbey, Blackburn, Bristol, Cape Town and Gloucester Cathedrals, as well as by the choirs of Gonville and Caius College and Queens’ College, Cambridge, and New College, Magdalen College, Lincoln College and Saint Peter’s College, Oxford.

And at some stage, I might get a chance for a walk in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside, and drop in to see friends in Cambridge before my flight back to Dublin on Wednesday night.

Canon Patrick Comerford is a member of the council of USPG and a director of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland.