Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Taking Us forward into the future with a rebranding

A walk in the woods at High Leigh today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

At the end of USPG’s day conference in High Leigh, Hoddesdon, the Council of USPG met this evening to deal with the formal business of the oldest Anglican mission society, and to look forward to the future of the society.

Much of the focus was on the proposed rebranding of USPG and rhe new tagline:

every person
every community
a full life

The Church of Ireland has two representatives on the council – the Revd Lynne Gibson, curate of Dundela in Belfast, and myself.

The council reviewed the work of the society for the past year, receiving the reports of the trustees, and reports on the society’s activities and finances.

This was the last council meeting for Canon Linda Ali, the outgoing chair, although she hopes to remain a member of council .

The new chair of the trustees from next Sunday [1 July 2012] is the Revd Canon Christopher Chivers, Vicar of John Keble Church, Mill Hill, in the Diocese of London. He is a former Canon Precentor of both Saint George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, and Westminster Abbey, London, and a former 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.

As well as saying farewell to Linda Ali as chair of the trustees, we also said farewell to three trustees, Monica Bolley, Richard Barrett and the Revd Roger Antell, whose terms of office had come to an end, and we elected five new trustees:

● John Chilver, an accountant and former USPG mission companion in Tanzania and Belize
● The Revd Joabe Cavalcanti, Vicar of Saint Barnabas, Mitcham (Diocese of Southwark).and a former USPG staff member
● Simon Gill, who has worked for the Department for international Development, and who has worked in Tanzania, Lesotho, Laos and Kenya.
● Rosemary Kempsell, who has been worldwide president of the Mothers’ Union for the past five years
● Jacky Humphreys, a barrister working in family law and a member of the General Synod of the Church of England.

The council also elected two new Honorary Vice-Presidents: Bishop Michael Doe, who was General Secretary from 2004 to 2011, and Bishop Royden Screech, who was a trustee from 2005 to 2011.

The council members also debated the proposed rebranding of USPG, with concerns focussed on the perceived lack of an explicit Christian identity in the new name and tag line. A launch date is planned in November.

Dr Evie Vernon reminded us that we began as SPG, and pointed out that many may have had problems with an acronym like EEPS, which had been a major part of our discussions today. As she told us: “Change is difficult but change is inevitable”

Canon Brian Stevenson (Rochester Diocese) said we needed shock therapy and to revitalise the society. “And we should do it together as Us.”

Earlier in the meeting, the company secretary Michael Hart, reported the sale of the former College of the Ascension in Selly Oak, Birmingham, which has been a lengthy and complicated process over the past six weeks. The sale was completed eight weeks ago when the college was sold to al-Mahdi Institute.

‘Visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district’

The White Swan on the High Street in Hoddesdon … rated by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as “visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I took a short break from the USPG Conference in High Leigh this afternoon, and went for a stroll in the surrounding countryside before walking down Lord Street into Hoddesdon, to buy the Guardian in a little newsagent shop on the High Street and to read the paper next door over a glass of wine in the White Swan.

At the end of the 16th century, Hoddesdon had at least 30 inns, apart from alehouses and taverns that did not provide accommodation. A document from the 1590s names five of those inns: the Lyon, the Bell, the Chequers, the George and the Swanne.

Of those five, the Bell, the Chequers and the George no longer exist, the Swanne is now the White Swan, and the Lyon is now the Salisbury Arms, three or four doors further along the High Street.

In 1977, the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described the White Swan as “visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district.”

Most of the building dates from the late 16th century, although part of the rear wing was added in the 19th century.

The White Swan was originally owned by the Sharnbrooke family, who owned other properties in Hoddesdon and Hailey. In 1600, it passed by marriage to John Bayley, and it has had a continuous story ever since.

The name of the pub was changed to the White Swan in the 20th century – although its National Heritage entry as a listed building describes it as “The Swan Inn.”

The White Swan is a mainly 16th century timber-framed building of five to six bays. It is plastered on the ground floor, and has an exposed half-timbered and plastered upper floor. The roof is Welsh and Westmoreland slate at the front roof, mostly old tile at the rear. The building has an L-plan, with a two-block rear wing on the south side, which is 16th and 17th on the east side and 19th century, single storey, weather-boarded on the west side.

A view of the White Swan from the car park at the rear (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The six-window front elevation has a central, canted window bay on two wooden Tuscan columns with six four-light casements and along sign beam.

The closely-studded upper floor has some diagonal braces, the south side is jettied on moulded bressumer, the north side on bull-nosed joists.

The first floor sash windows are late 19th century, and there is a multi-pane shop front on the north side.

Inside, the building has chamfered and stopped floor beams and joists, the second bay from south with V-profile moulded beams.

The White Swan is the only pub in Hoddesdon listed as a grade 2* building, and with its beautiful and elegant Tudor architecture it fully deserves this status.

‘Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God’

The stories of returned volunteers provided a iwndow in the world church at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Today’s programme at the USPG conference in High Leigh is organised as a stand-alone one-day conference focussing on the Experience Exchange Programme (EEPS).

We are gathered in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, this week and today we are taking a close look at USPG’s self-funding volunteer programme, which has provided opportunities for over 400 volunteers for over half a century.

The conference theme is “Face to Face” and once again we heard about “Face to Face” encounters that have been enriching for the whole church. Their stories this morning gave us a window into the world church. Perhaps some people today were surprised that not all of the “EEPs” (EEP volunteers) are young, nor are they all Anglicans.

USPG’s EEP co-ordinator, Canon Habib Nader, talked about “very exciting times.” The programme allows volunteers to experience being part of a bigger global family and to come back and share that story with meaning.

He told us there have been over 300 EEPs since 1988 – including 200 Anglicans, 90 Methodists and 22 “others.” He said 84 came from a vicarage or manse, 130 were gap year or pre-university students, 180 were post-university, experiencing a “mature gap year,” and there are 38 Greenbelt Festival recruits.

What happens when they return? Habib told us that 91 former EEPs are now full-time church workers, in ordained, in mission, in key NGO positions, and so on; 245 attended the ‘Reunion 2008’ – and 25 married fellow EEPs. He also thanked the wonderful hosts who have accepted EEPs over the year.

From the Church of South India, Sister Kasthuri Manickam spoke of her work at the Women’s Workers’ Training Centre in Nagalapuram, India, and the experience of EEP volunteers. From South Africa, Canon Rob Penrith of Saint John’s Church, Port Elizabeth, spoke of his experience of seven EEPs working in his parish since 1998, including musicians, looking after young people who need help with homework and extra care. He said it was about “Face-to-Face” encounters and transformation.

Helen Ledger spoke of her experience as an EEP volunteer for nine months – six in Nagalapuram and three in Sri Lanka – working on women’s issues and training development workers.

Catriona Macdonald, who had been a nurse and a music teacher, did a Celta course before going to India.

Hannah Silcock told how she first came across the EEPS programme at Greenbelt, when she was a16-year-old looking for a gap-year opportunity two years later. When she was 18, she spent six months in South Africa. She spoke of how throughout those years a guiding thought has been the prophetic question: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6: 8). She is now a student in Birmingham University, studying theology and philosophy.

Faye Woolard, who is now working with a mental health NGO, was an EEP volunteer in South Africa. She said the transition on her return to England was difficult, but she back with great hope, faith is a challenge, found the transition on her return to England.

Gerry Lynch from Saint George’s Church, Belfast, spoke from the floor about his experience as an EEP volunteer in South Africa.

‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again’

Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well … a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford
The USPG conference in High Leigh opened this morning with the Eucharist according to the rite of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, celebrated at 7.30 by the Revd Dr Ian Rock, Principal of Codrington College, Barbados.

After breakfast, we had a Bible study with the Right Revd Jacob Ayeebo, Bishop of Tamale (Ghana), who introduced the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This passage continued the “Face-to-Face” theme of the conference, but also led to some further conversations about the proposed new branding for USPG:
every person
every community
a full life

John 4: 1-30

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptising more disciples than John’ – although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptised – he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

“Where do you get that living water?” ... walking by the lake at High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Questions to discuss

We were asked to discuss the following questions:

Why was it that Jesus had to pass through Samaria? What social boundaries and biases did Jesus overcome in his encounter – face to face with the woman?

Compare and contrast the type of water that the woman is thinking of (verses 11, 15) and the type of water that Jesus is talking about (verses 11-15)?

What does Jesus mean by living water?

How can Jesus’ “Living Water” satisfy our needs and why do some choose to drink from other wells?

If we ran into Jesus at the well, what would he confront us about?

How is Jesus’ statement in verse 16 a turning point in the conversation?

What did Jesus mean by the statement ‘You have had five husbands and he who is with you now is not your husband?

What does it mean that she recognised him as a prophet (verses 19-25)?

How does the text help and encourage us to pray?

What are the key lessons in this encounter?

In this face-to-face encounter, is there any promise for us to claim?

‘We have an amazing story to tell ... we are ready to do something big’

Telling the amazing story of USPG FOR Us (from left): Zoe Bunter, Mike Brooks and Leanne Werner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The USPG conference got underway on Monday afternoon [25 June 2012] in the High Leigh Conference Centre on the fringes of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.

After an early flight from Dublin, I had spent the morning in Saffron Walden in Essex. My initial plan was to photograph some of the wonderful 16th and 17th century timber framed shops, pubs and houses in this wonderful example of an English market town, and ended up being invited to take part in the Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, which is the largest church in Essex, celebrated by the Assistant Curate, the Revd Anne Howson.

I spent the rest of the morning strolling through the streets of Saffron Walden, and as the sun warmed and the temperatures rose, it was a beautiful day for architectural photography – the Old Sun Inn, the Eight Bells, the Cross Keys, the Market Place, the Castle Ruins, Castle Street, the Close, the Gardens, and the Rows.

But Saffron Walden is so charming and enchanting that the story is worth telling in full another day. From there, I caught the bus to Bishop’s Stortford, where I hopped on a train to Broxbourne, and after a shirt taxi journey was at High Leigh just in time for lunch.

Saint Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden ... but that’s another story for another day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

A major consideration this afternoon was the rebranding of USPG. I have been a supporter of USPG for decades, but I am conscious that the full name, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, is not only a mouthful for some and a tongue-twister for many, but it demands work in terms of bridging a credibility gap.

Canon Edgar Ruddock spoke in frank terms of the commercial value of Brand, and how there is a critically important interface between the world church and church on these islands. As a mission agency we must not to be seen as something we might have been – or were imagined as being – 50 or more years ago. We need to keep in step with a growing and changing church context in these islands.

The Revd Canon Christopher Chivers, the incoming chair of USPG’s trustees, said the present process is not about who we are, but about how we are and about how we relate: “We have an amazing story to tell.”

We need to communicate about our work, which is fantastic, but the name is part of whole brand. He asked how it can be captivating and exciting, and asked whether we are reaching a whole generation in the Church and beyond the Church.

There’s a vacuum in the Church that only USPG can fill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The CEO of USPG, Ms Janette O’Neill, spoke of a vacuum in the churches and the voluntary sector. Although there are plenty of places to give money, none of those agencies offer an opportunity for people to join in partnership and the engagement. “We are ready to do something big,” she said.

Zoe Bunter, Director for Donor Engagement, said any vision for the future is not just about looking at where we are today. Brand is part of any organisation and gives out messages about us and who we really are.

But she admitted our current brand is a barrier to many people. The onus is now on us to communicate effectively, it is not on people out there to get in touch with us. Speaking of the need to attract new supporters, she pointed out a survey shows 67 pc of current USPG supporters over age of 61.

Name is one of first messages people receive about us, she said. .For those who do not know about the work and history of USPG, the name is a barrier. Propagation of the Gospel sounds outdated, old-fashioned, colonial, insensitive and intolerant. Whether others are right or wrong, these are the perspectives, and by the time it comes to explaining work, we are on the back foot and defensive.

The change that name does not mean we devalue the past. But we can build on the rich history we have. However, the name USPG does it say who we are today and what we are doing.

We say a short film putting all that in context, pointing out that USPG, which was founded in 1702, is older than the UK, but throughout its history has been ahead of its time, fighting slavery and leprosy, supporting the role of women in the church and in mission, challenging racism, and working beyond colonies and empire.

But today we work differently.

The trustees are proposing a new name and a new tagline:

every person
every community
a full life

The panel discussion that followed included Bishop Andrew Proud, trustee Monica Bolley, Zoe Bunter, Janette O’Neill and Canon Edgar Ruddock.

There was an interesting debate, with questions about where Christ is in the name or strap-line, and one suggestion that it could be completed as: “a full life in Christ.”

Earlier in the afternoon, we were welcomed by Canon Linda Ali, the outgoing chair of the Council of USPG, who spoke of USPG as family that is a global family.

Three of the overseas trustees, Bishop Edward Malecdan from the Philippines, Bishop Jacob Ayeebo from Ghana, and the Revd Dr Ian Rock from Codrington College, Barbados, Caribbean, spoke of their formative links with USPG.

As Edgar Ruddock said at the opening of the conference, the sun is shining as usual at the start of Wimbledon week. I hope the sun keeps shining for the rest of this week in the Hertfordshire countryside.

Our other speakers today included the Revd Dr David Evans and Lisungo Nkhoma, national co-ordinator for the Hands on Health programme in Malawi. We heard reports from Bangladesh, Barbados, Ghana, Malawi, Myanmar, Pakistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and of course from Birmingham and from Ireland. And our day ended with worship led by the singer-songwriter Garth Hewitt, who spoke of his passion for justice in Palestine and Southern Africa.

The High Leigh Conference Centre on the fringes of Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, the venue for this year’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)