17 July 2017
USPG conference this week
looks at serving the Churches
and strengthening communities
I am in England for these three days, attending the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
This year’s conference theme is ‘Serving the Churches, Strengthening Communities.’ The conference is looking at how USPG is working in partnership with Anglican Churches around the world to help serve local churches and strengthen communities.
In particular, the conference is focusing on five key thematic areas of the work of USPG: protecting health, growing the Church, enabling livelihoods, promoting justice and responding to crises.
The conference opens today (Monday 17 July 2017) with registration from 3 p.m. There will be talks, workshops, ideas to take back to parishes, and opportunities to meet some of USPG’s world church partners.
The invited speakers include Jo Musker-Sherwood of Hope for the Future, who is discussing how the Church can engage with the issue of climate justice. Hope for the Future was established in 2012 to equip faith communities, local groups and individuals across the UK to raise awareness of climate change. The patron is Bishop Steven Croft of Oxford.
The Revd Canon Grace Kaiso, General Secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), is looking at how the Church is working with communities to enable livelihoods.
The Revd Dr Carlton Turner, of the Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI), is exploring how we might grow the Church.
The Right Revd John Wilme, Bishop of Tongoo in Myanmar (Burma), is speaking about protecting health.
As a trustee of USPG, I have been invited to chair part of the conference on Wednesday morning, when the Right Revd David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese in Europe, is speaking on how the Church is responding to crises.
In the current edition [Summer 2017] of Transmission, the USPG magazine, two former police officers, Diana and Roger Boyles from Nantwich, describe how they recently spent 10 weeks in Greece with USPG’s ‘Journey With Us’ placement programme. This is an moving response to the current refugee crisis in Greece and illustrates the response of the Anglican church in Athens.
‘We discovered USPG at the Greenbelt arts festival last year. We found ourselves listening to a talk by Fr Malcolm Bradshaw, formerly senior chaplain at St Paul’s Church in Athens.
‘Fr Malcolm explained how 60,000 refugees had arrived in Greece, having fled war and other dangers, only to find themselves living in appalling conditions. Additionally, we learned that the Greek financial crisis of 2007 had left thousands of Greeks in near-poverty.
‘Also at Greenbelt, we heard about USPG’s Journey With Us programme. We made enquiries, and eventually found ourselves on a ten-week placement at St Paul’s.
‘We spent a lot of time at a Salvation Army day centre where we met families from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea, as well as local Greek families in need. Without exception, everyone had a traumatic story to tell. Many had been separated from family members, some of whom were still facing dangers in their countries of origin.
‘We also spent a week on the island of Lesbos with the Lighthouse Relief refugee project. Lesbos is very close to Turkey and one of the islands where large numbers of refugees landed having crossed the Aegean Sea. Lighthouse has been welcoming and supporting refugees as they arrive.
‘The St Paul’s congregation certainly has a heart for mission. For example, the church is supporting the ‘Church in the Streets’ programme, which offers two hot meals a day to whoever comes and queues – a service that has been running since the financial crash without missing a single day.
‘Most of the refugees didn’t plan to live in Greece but, due to closed borders and a complicated asylum process, they have little opportunity to go elsewhere. Many are in camps that provide inadequate accommodation because they were only conceived as a short-term solution. The Greek refugee situation might not be making the headlines at the moment, but clearly the crisis is not over.
‘God is at work among those of all faiths who are trying to make the situation better, but there is an opportunity for so much more.
‘This was a powerful and enriching experience for both Roger and I.’
This year’s conference is taking place in the High Leigh Conference Centre, near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. Last year’ , the conference took place in the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, but USPG is returning to High Leigh for this year’s conference.
The conference closes on Wednesday (19 July 2017). Residential places at the conference are now booked out, but visitors are still welcome to the Day Conference tomorrow (Tuesday 18 July 2017).
I am catching the first flight from Dublin to Stansted this morning, and I hope to spend an hour or two in Cambridge this morning before a meeting of trustees, or on Wednesday afternoon when the conference ends, browsing in the bookshops. Perhaps there may even be time during a break in the conference for a walk in the countryside in Hertfordshire and Essex before catching a late flight to Dublin on Wednesday in time for a late-night bus to Limerick.