19 July 2017

Churches remain on the ground
in Greece for the long-term

A plaque in a quiet corner at the High Leigh Conference Centre, the venue for this year’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

While NGOs are moving out of Greece to the next humanitarian crisis, declaring that there is no crisis in Greece, the Churches are there, remaining on the ground for the long-term.

Bishop David Hamid of the Diocese of Europe was speaking this morning of how the Church is responding to current crises. In his focus on the work of the Anglican Church in Greece, he told the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning that 60,000 refugees and migrants are still stuck in Greece, and as they move on they are replaced by more.

He said the Churches in Greece had moved from a crisis to a Kairos moment, finding they are present at the right and appropriate moment.

The response to the crisis in Greece began when Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Church in Athens tried to respond to the plight of 17,000 refugees in November 2014. By June 2015, this number had almost doubled to 31,000, and there was a shortage of food and water on the islands.

The Churches came together following an alert about 500 people who were stranded in August 2015 on the small island of Farmakonisi, which is barren and has no water.

The story of three-year-old Alan Kurdi from Syria who drowned on a beach in Turkey in September 2015 mobilised a wider public response. USPG responded immediately and launched an appeal.

But by September 2015, there were 5,000 arrivals a day in Greece. Bishop David described this as the greatest crisis to hit Europe since World War II, but he said it had brought the churches together in their response.

I was chairing the question and answer session this morning. The questions he put to the conference asked:

‘How important is the Anglican partnership that USPG brings? What added dimension does this bring to our work of emergency relief and development?’

‘How do you balance and weigh up the often competing priorities: immediate aid to relieve suffering; long-term assistance and accompaniment; advocacy for justice and change? What are the criteria for judgment?’

With Bishop David Hamid at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning

In our Bible study this morning, Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Diocese of False Bay, South Africa, looked at today’s Gospel reading in the Lectionary (Matthew 11: 25-27) and reflected on the role of the Church in the area of gender-based violence.

God is always with me, but, she asked, am I always with God?

She spoke of the plight of women forced into prostitution and people trafficking, and the victims, male and female, of gender-based, domestic and sexual violence.

She described the Gospels as ‘God’s photo-album of Jesus’ ministry,’ and challenged us to think of where we might be in that album. ‘You may be the answer to the prayer you are praying.’

Once again she challenged us in those words of wisdom from the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse, and asked: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

In our final session, members of USPG’s fundraising and communications and mission engagement teams spoke of their work as staff members, the Advent focus on Madagascar and of future conferences.

This year’s conference came to a close in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, this afternoon [19 July 2017] with our Closing Eucharist, at which the celebrant was Bishop Saw John Wilme of Toungoo in Myanmar.

The preacher was Janette O’Neill, who told the conference this week that she is about to retire as USPG’s general secretary. The deacon was the Revd Dr Evie Vernon, USPG’s Programme Adviser on Theological Education, and our closing prayers were led by Canon Chris Chivers, Principal of Westcott House in Cambridge and chair of USPG trustees.

The bell tower above the old house at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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