Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Appreciating what we have and what we can do

A walk by the lake at High Leigh near Hoddesdon this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The main speakers at the Us conference in High Leigh this week are Floyd P Lalwet, Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines (ECP), and the Revd Fedis Nyagah, Church and Community Mobilisation Process Facilitator, working throughout Africa and with Us in Zimbabwe.

‘Brave Steps’ is the theme of this year’s conference for Us, the Anglican mission agency formerly known as USP – the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – at the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.

Floyd was formerly the head of ECP’s development office and this morning [Tuesday 25 June 2013] he shared experiences from his church’s commitment to human rights and social justice.

He spoke of the ABCD approach to development in the Philippines: Asset-Based Congregational Development.

Floyd wondered whether we had lost the capacity to help people to imagine and to dream of a better world.

When the Philippines Episcopal Church gained autonomy from the Episcopal Church in the US (ECUSA), it remained financially dependent, and needed to move from autonomy to financial independence, relying on its own sources of revenues, from 2010. But by 2005, the PEC had a budget surplus, and began to “appreciate what we have and what we can positively do with what we have.”

The Us Harvest Pack this year, ‘Bring What You Have,’ focuses on the work in the Philippines.

Fedis spoke later this morning about her work with CCMP (Church and Community Mobilisation Process), spearheading a faith-based approach to community empowerment in Zimbabwe and Kenya that radically challenges the idea that poor people need to be dependent on aid to end poverty.

She was once one of the youngest ordinands in Kenya, and has worked in rural villages in Kenya and Zimbabwe, in the slums in Nairobi, and is now one of four “super trainers,” working with the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), helping to build new trainers. Her work is supported by a variety of agencies and organisations, including Us, the Mothers’ Union, and Lambeth.

She encouraged us to share her approach, which she said is about “starting where we are and doing it now.”

Reflections on the lake at High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Earlier this morning, Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory spoke about brave steps in the story of Saint Columba and in the two passages he selected for our Bible study: Isaiah 40: 1-11, which opens with the familiar words, “Comfort, O comfort my people;” and Matthew 3:1-6, which tells of the proclamation of Saint John the Baptist, whose feastday we were celebrating yesterday.

Although this Gospel passage uses a misquotation in the Septuagint from the original Hebrew in Second Isaiah, the two stories talk of a destination that is not fixed, but where it is clear that the journey is going to be costly.

Bishop Michael recalled that Christianity became established in Ireland within the space of a year or two, and the transition to a Christian society was relatively harmonious, without any great martyrs. Many of the early Irish saints regretted that the Irish Church had no “red martyrs,” and so spoke of a white martyrdom that involved giving up all to where God would lead.
They were “destination-less,” and did not know where they were going on this journey of peregrinatio or pilgrimage, which involves leaving home for a self-imposed exile and wandering for the love of God. Saint Columba set out on a voyage not knowing where he was going, but went on to establish his monastery at Iona, which became a great centre of mission.

His story involved Saint Cainnech of Aghaboe – now identified as Saint Canice with the cathedral in Kilkenny in the bishop’s diocese – running after him one shoe missing – yet another example of “Brave Steps” in mission.

He wondered whether we too often fence God’s grace by closing God’s future, and he reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, which was a walk to a life of service.

Saint Columba’s Iona was not remote or out in the wilderness, but was a hub at the centre of maritime trade at the time. We can misinterpret Saint Columba if see him as a voice crying in the wilderness, rather than a voice calling people to go out in Brave Steps.

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