Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Seeking justice in climate
change and in health care

Step-by-step towards justice … in the High Leigh Conference Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

At the USPG conference in High Leigh this afternoon, we were challenged to think about promoting justice issues that involve protecting health and demanding climate justice.

Jo Musker-Sherwood, Director of Hope for the Future www.hftf.org.uk , spoke of the impact of global warming and climate change, with examples from her experience in Peru. There 95 per cent of people rely on water stored in glaciers on the heights of the Andes for their water supplies, and Peru is heavily dependent on water for hydro-electricity.

She spoke about the challenges to faith in a changing climate, and spoke of the work of Hope for the Future, which aims to give a platform to Churches working on climate change issues, and spoke of lobbying Parliament and MPs.

The campaign works with people of all faiths and none, but at its heart it remains a deeply Christian campaign.

She suggested MPs often do not take seriously people they suspect do not live out the values that they lobby on. The climate movement has developed an unfortunate reputation for lecturing at people and threatening them about the consequences of heeding the threats posed by climate change.

She offered signs of hope in the face of a problem that is becoming increasingly dangerous.

She asked us to consider that ways in which our identities are connected to fossil fuels and how this awareness impacts our response to climate change.

And she asked what we think are the biggest opportunities for tackling climate change in our churches and our dioceses.

Bishop Saw John Wilme of Toungoo, a diocese in the Church of the Province of Myanmar, spoke of his Church’s work in providing health care for people in the country we also know as Burma.

It was a timely reminder of how often we take clean water for granted in this part of Europe. Access to water is essential for clean clothes, basic hygiene, combatting malaria, and so is essential to basic health care. Yet many people in Myanmar find it difficult to access sources of clean water.

Since the new government was formed in 2014, the country has started to change, but there are still conflicts, minority ethnic tribes suffer discrimination, there are many checkpoints, the army still controls many key ministries, and former generals control many businesses.

‘We all want peace,’ he said, but those who control the big weapons continue to control the agenda.

In trying to reach the unreached, the Anglican Church in Myanmar has been involved in setting up hospitals and engaged in building healthy communities in partnership with USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The day began at High Leigh with the Morning Eucharist celebrated by the Revd Canon Joabe Cavalcanti, a colleague trustee of USPG. During the day, we have also had workshops on protecting health, growing the Church, enabling livelihoods, promoting justice, responding to crises, and USPG’s ‘Journey With Us’ short-term mission programme.

The Council of USPG meets this evening, and the day ends with Night Prayer led by Father Herbert Fadriquela, Anglican chaplain to the Filipino Community in the Diocese of Leicester.

Welcome to the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘I became human for you,
will you become God with me?’

‘What overwhelms us?’ … in the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

‘What overwhelms us?’

‘What can we do about being overwhelmed?’

These questions were put to us this morning by Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Diocese of False Bay in South Africa. She was speaking at the USPG conference in High Leigh.

Bishop Margaret, who is the second woman to become a bishop in Africa, was leading this morning’s Bible study (Matthew 11: 20-24).

She challenged us to think of do we respond in love and not in judgment. Drawing on the wisdom of the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse, and asked: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

To illustrate how we might respond in love and not in judgment, she shared ‘The Story of a Sign’ by Alonso Alvarez Barreda, with music by Giles Lamb. This short film from Purplefeather illustrates the power of words to radically change our message and our effect upon the world:



Today is Mandela Day, when everyone in South Africa is encouraged to donate time to charity and charitable work.

Describing the situation in her diocese in the Western Cape, she said apartheid had a pauper’s burial, so South Africa is still an angry nation and very volatile.

In the Anglican Communion, this is a ‘Season of Intentional Discipleship, and in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, this is the ‘Year of the Young.’

One-third of the population of the Western Cape live in the area of the Diocese of False Bay, where there are over 6 million people, and 40 per cent of these people live in the grips of poverty, only 24 per cent of learners ever finish school, and for many there is no opportunity to be educated beyond grade 12.

She spoke of the prevalence of gender-based violence, human trafficking, which is a modern-day slavery.

But she asked us to consider our own contexts and to discuss: ‘What overwhelms us? What can we do about being overwhelmed?’

And she asked, in the words of the wisdom of the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

Later in the morning, the Revd Dr Carlton Turner, from the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in the Church in the Province of the West Indies, spoke on ‘Growing the Church.’

God’s pattern for growing the Church is about entering chaos and bringing about something creative, something new.

He discussed the threats to life in the Caribbean, the legacy of slavery and colonialism, the natural disasters, including hurricanes, tropical storms and volcanoes, and the social and political and economic chaos. ‘When the US sneezes, we catch a cold.’

But it is also a region of amazing creativity, with carnivals and festivals, and a rich variety of languages and cultures, such as reggae and calypso.

Referring to the move from Chaos to Creativity of Pentecost, he spoke of recent violent incidents in Manchester and Finsbury Park as examples of situations where chaos can lead to creativity.

Referring to next Sunday’s Gospel reading, he suggested that good and bad co-exists together, but we are at risk if we try to weed them out. Growth means diversity. Diversity is key to growing the Church, as it flows outward.

‘God grows God’s Church,’ he said. We do not do what we do alone.

Given the complex and chaotic world in which we live, he asked, how can we work together to bring about something new, creative for the world to share in?

God is creative and unpredictable and the Spirit continues to move over the chaos of our world to bring about the new Creation. How does this challenge our mission and management frameworks and practices?

In the grounds of the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Too much ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and
not enough ‘Sense and Sensibility’

Summer colours in Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

From Crete to Cambridge in less than a week.

Last Tuesday [11 July 2017], I spent the morning in the Monastery of Arkadi in the mountains above Rethymnon in Crete.

Yesterday [17 July 2017], on my way from Stansted Airport to the USPG conference in High Leigh, I decided to spend the morning in Cambridge. After breakfast near Christ’s College, I spent a few hours browsing in the bookshops, calling into Sidney Sussex College, and taking photographs at some of my favourite places, despite the throng of tourists.

This year, for the first time in many years, the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies is not organising a summer school in Sidney Sussex College, and I am going to miss a week of teaching, friendship and fun. But I still needed to call in on the place, and to enjoy this corner of Cambridge in the summer sun.

I was corrected on Facebook later in the day and told by a colleague that what I always thought was wisteria growing in the courts in Sidney Sussex is in fact solanum. But the name solanum is applied to a wide variety of crops and plants that include potatoes, tomatoes and aubergine. In other words, I have lot more to learn each time I return to Cambridge.

G David … one of my favourite bookshops anywhere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In Saint Edward’s Passage, a side alley close to King’s College, the Guildhall and the Market, I found myself rummaging once again through the collections outside G David, one of my favourite second-hand bookshops in any part of the world.

Nearby, in Guildhall Street, close to the Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy, I was brought back from Cambridge to Crete with a jolt. In all these years, I had paid little attention to Michael Ayrton’s sculpture of Talos opposite the Guildhall. But, perhaps because I am just back from Crete, I noticed both the statue and the inscription, which says:

Talos, Legendary man of bronze,
was guardian of Minoan Crete
the first civilisation
of Europe
Sculptor: Michael Ayrton


According to the stories in Greek mythology, Zeus abducted Europa and took her to Crete, where Talos, a bronze giant, guarded her from pirates by circling shores of Crete three times a day. Talos was made by Zeus, Daedalus or Hephaistos. A single vein of molten metal gave life to Talos, and this ‘blood’ was kept inside the giant’s body by a bronze peg in his ankle. Talos attacked Jason and the Argonauts when they landed on Crete, Talos attacked them. Medea charmed Talos into removing the bronze peg, all his ichor flowed into the sand, and he died.

Talos was sculpted in 1950 by Michael Ayton (1921-1975). Like the mythical Talos, Ayrton’s Talos is also made of bronze. But he has no arms, no face, and his torso is a bulging box shape. By leaving Talos without his arms, Ayton illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors.

Michael Ayton’s Talos illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford , 2017)

I found myself wondering who is going to portray the anger and bewilderment of post-Brexit Britain.

Today [18 July 2017] marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen on 18 July 1817. The bookshop of the Cambridge University Press is displaying special editions of her novels and biographies of her in a window facing the Senate House.

I wonder how many are going to break away from the throngs of tourists to call in today and to mark this bicentenary.

But I could not escape noticing the carefully sculpted juxtaposition of two of her best-known books: Sense and Sensibility to the left and Pride and Prejudice to the right.

Perhaps it is a summary of the anger and bewilderment of many in Britain a year after the Brexit referendum. After all, the vote appears to have been 48 per cent Sense and Sensibility and 52 per cent Pride and Prejudice.

If only there had been a little more Persuasion from people who should have known better.

Marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death in Cambridge this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford , 2017)