24 June 2013

‘Brave Steps’ ... the experience of the Church walking by faith

A triptych in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, of Saint John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ ... a theme in the prayers and readings at the Us conference today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today has been the Feast of the Birthday of Saint John Baptist [24 June], and in my own way I have been marking the anniversary of my ordination as a priest.

This afternoon also saw the opening of the annual conference of Us – the Anglican mission agency formerly known as USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) – which is taking as its theme ‘Brave Steps.’

We are meeting until Wednesday [26 June] once again in the High Leigh Conference Centre on the fringes of Hoddesdon in semi-rural Hertfordshire.

Canon Rob Jones, who led us in worship at different times during the day, reminded us of today’s feastday in his prayers and in the readings.

Tomorrow morning, Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory will lead our Bible study, and the two main speakers will offer perspectives from the Philippines and Tanzania will offer perspectives on the conference theme, talking about how we walk by faith, not by sight. The theme ‘Brave Steps’ draws on the verse in II Corinthians 5, where the Apostle Paul says: “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Earlier in the day, Janette O’Neill, the CEO of Us, introduced her report on the past year, with her highlights and achievements of the past year illustrated with recollections of her visit to Matabeleland in Zimbabwe and reminders of the work of the former the Railway Workers’ Mission in what was once known as Rhodesia.

She was delighted to find on the Day of Pentecost that the church that mission had founded was no dead church, but is a Church that is alive and thriving, working with women with HIV+ and supporting church plants.

During the day, we heard reports on the work of Hands on Health in Malawi, where childbirth fatality rates are still high, and on work in Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Tanzania, South Africa and Brazil. There were reports too on links with Anglicans in Cambodia, St Vincent, Central Africa, Ghana, Tanzania, Bangladesh, the Indian Ocean and Palestine.

Canon Edgar Ruddock described the Wall in Palestine as the “Great Divide,” and said it is always shocking for pilgrims to come face to face with the Wall, which he described as “a wicked symbol of all that has gone wrong in the land that we call Holy.”

Bishop Jacob Ayeebo of Tamale said the biggest challenge he faces is one of human resources. His diocese covers half the size of Ghana, but he has only 14 clergy.

Bishop Paul Shishir Sarker of Dhaka in Bangladesh, spoke of the challenges facing his church, including the challenges of the rise of militant Islam, corruption, climate change, human trafficking, and tragedies such as collapse of nine-storey factory building. In the aftermath of that tragedy, his diocese supported rescue teams, and appreciated the prayerful support from partners. He said his Church is small, yet “when we know we have sisters and brothers in other countries, we have hope.”

The main speakers at the conference 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.

Floyd was formerly the head of ECP’s development office and is sharing experiences from his church’s commitment to human rights and social justice. Fedis is spearheading a faith-based approach to community empowerment that radically challenges the idea that poor people need to be dependent on aid to end poverty.

A plaque in Saint Michael’s Church, Bishop’s Stortford, recalling Cecil Rhodes and his father, a former Bishop of the parish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Irish people delegates at the conference met earlier in the day over coffee and lunch in neighbouring Bishop’s Stortford – the birthplace of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the “Rhodesia” referred to by Janette O’Neill later in the day.

I walked around Bishop’s Stortford during the morning, eager to see many of its Tudor, 16th century buildings, and its architecturally interesting Gothic parish church. But, that’s a story for another day.

The Black Lion ... an old Tudor inn in Bishop’s Stortford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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