02 July 2018

‘All Things are Possible’
at this year’s USPG
conference in High Leigh

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire … the venue for USPG’s annual conference this week from 2 to 4 July 2018 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I am at the High Leigh Conference Centre, near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, for the USPG annual conference, which began earlier today [2 July 2018] and continues until Wednesday [4 July 2018].

I arrived at Stansted earlier in the day and had breakfast in Cambridge this morning, visited Sidney Sussex College, and spent a little time browsing in the bookshops before catching the train to Broxbourne, the nearest station to High Leigh.

‘All Things are Possible’ is the theme of this year’s conference organised by the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). It is a theme that comes from Saint Matthew's Gospel: But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19: 26). This also builds on the theme of USPG’s Lenten study pack, which we used earlier this year in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.

This year’s conference offers opportunities to discover how Anglican Churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America are engaging with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Emma Bridger, USPG’s Programme Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, this afternoon summarised the 17 inter-connected goals that aim to transform our world by 2030 under these headings:

● 1, No Poverty

● 2, Zero Hunger

● 3, Good Health and Well-Being

● 4, Quality Education

● 5, Gender Equality

● 6, Clean Water and Sanitation

● 7, Affordable and Clean Energy

● 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth

● 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

● 10, Reduced Inequalities

● 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities

● 12, Responsible Consumption and Production

● 13, Climate Action

● 14, Life Below Later

● 15, Life on land

● 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

● 17 Partnerships for the Goals

We are focussing on these goals in the conference and in workshops through five themes: Prosperity, People, Plant, Peace and Partnership.

There are workshops and speakers from throughout the world Church, making this year’s conference an opportunity to explore how the Church can play its part in tackling poverty, fighting inequality, campaigning for climate justice, and much more.

The five guest speakers at the conference this year are:

Archbishop Albert Chama, Archbishop and Primate of the Church of the Province of Central Africa and Bishop of Northern Zambia;

Jessica Richard, Co-ordinator, Campaign and Advocacy, the Church of South India;

Dr James Corah, Head of Ethical and Responsible Investment, CCLA Investment Management Ltd, and secretary to the Church Investors Group;

The Revd Dr Pervaiz Sultan, Principal of Saint Thomas’s Theological College in Karachi, the national seminary of the Church of Pakistan;

The Right Revd Donald Jute, who last year became the 14th Bishop of Kuching, the diocese that covers Sarawak and Brunei in the Anglican Church in South-East Asia.

Bishop Donald was consecrated and enthroned on 13 August 2017 in Saint Thomas’s Cathedral, Kuching. The Diocese of Lichfield has long-term links with Kuching.

Before becoming Bishop of Kuching, Bishop Donald was the Vicar of the Good Shepherd Church, Lutong in Miri. He served in the Diocese of Glasgow in 2003-2009 and was Rector of Saint Oswald’s in King’s Park, Glasgow, in 2007-2009.

He has a BD from the University of Edinburgh and a Diploma in Missiology from the Australian College of Theology, and he has been a lecturer at the House of the Epiphany Theological College (1992-1998).

He is passionate about Church Renewal, Discipleship Training, Youth Ministry and the Empowerment of Lay Leadership, and has been his diocesan co-ordinator for local ordained ministry. He is married with four children.

This year’s Bible studies are being led by the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, a Peace and Interfaith activist.

Before the conference officially started this afternoon, there was a meeting of USPG trustees and a session for USPG volunteers.

This afternoon, at the opening of the conference, we were welcomed to High Leigh by Canon Chris Chivers, the outgoing Chair of USPG Trustees and the principal of Westcott House, Cambridge, and the Revd Duncan Dormor, General Secretary of USPG, introduced our first discussion of the Sustainable Development Goals. At our second session this evening, Archbishop Albert Chama is to speak on theme of ‘Prosperity’ in these goals.

We begin tomorrow morning [3 July] with a celebration of the Eucharist with Bishop Donald Jute, when the preacher is the Revd Dr Evie Vernon-O’Brien of USPG Global Relations.

I have been asked to chair the session tomorrow afternoon when the Revd Dr Pervaiz Sultan from Karachi is speaking. At the meeting of the USPG Council tomorrow evening, I expect to be nominated for a second three-year term as a trustee of USPG.

Residential places are now fully booked, but USPG supporters still have the opportunity of attending the one-day conference tomorrow. The conference is free for students, ordinands, USPG Diocesan Representatives, volunteer speakers, and Journey With Us participants.

The Dean of Lusaka Cathedral, the Very Revd Charley Thomas, is the celebrant at our Closing Eucharist on Wednesday morning [4 July], and Canon Chris Chivers is the preacher.

Afternoon sunshine at High Leigh, the venue for this year’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The task of physicians of
the soul is the cure of souls

Saint John Chrysostom says priests are appointed by God as physicians to cure every soul that is infirm

Canon Patrick Comerford

I was catching up on some back-reading the other day when I came across the obituary in The Tablet on 24 March 2018 for Cardinal Karl Lehmann.

He has been described as the face and voice of Catholicism in Germany for over 35 years, and he was the Bishop of Mainz and former Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Mainz. In the 1960s, he had been an assistant to Karl Rahner, the Jesuit theologian, during the Second Vatican Council.

His obituary quotes Johanna Rahner, who teaches dogmatics at Tübingen University and who had had told the German weekly Die Zeit: ‘He interpreted the Church’s teaching as a seelsorger (a ‘carer of souls’ – the German word for priest) and not in the narrow, doctrinal, sense.’

I like the idea of seeing the priest or the pastor as the physician or doctor of souls. The German theological journal, Seelsorger, describes itself as a ‘Journal for the Contemporary Cure of Souls,’ and the topics on pastoral care it discusses range from sexuality to post-modernity, the conscience to the use of story, vice, virtue, and baptism and the dangers and blessings of a long-term pastorate.

The soul is the deepest centre of the psyche. Problems at the level of the soul radiate out to all levels of the psyche and even the body.

The priest, the soul doctor, traces the problem to its deepest point. A hurting person should be addressed at all of those levels, but it is the soul doctor who addresses the very deepest level.

Among the Patristic writers, Saint John Chrysostom says that every priest is, as it were, the father of the whole world, and therefore should have care of all the souls to whose salvation he can co-operate by his labours. Besides, priests are appointed by God as physicians to cure every soul that is infirm. Origen has called priests ‘physicians of souls,’ while Saint Jerome calls us ‘spiritual physicians.’ Later, Saint Bonaventure asks: ‘If the physician flees from the sick, who will cure them?’

Canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 drew an analogy between the physicians of the body and the physicians of the soul. This analogy between medical or physical care and spiritual or pastoral care was enthusiastically developed in mediaeval sermons and penitential literature, opening the door to many further comparisons.

The English word curate refers to a person who is charged with the care or cure (cura) of souls in a parish. In this sense, ‘curate’ correctly means a parish priest. In France, the cure is the principal priest in a parish, as is the Italian curato and the Spanish cura. But in English-speaking places, the term curate is commonly used to describe priests who are assistants to the parish priest.

However, the word curate in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer means the incumbent of a benefice, who is licensed by the bishop to the ‘cure of souls.’ The shared cure of souls is made clear by the traditional wording of the bishop’s deed of institution to a new incumbent, ‘habere curam animarum, et accipe curam tuam et meam, receive the cure of souls which is both mine and thine.’

In other words, when a parish priest begins his or her new ministry, the bishop is sharing the care of the parish — described traditionally as ‘the cure of souls’ — with the priest, but the bishop does not give it away. The 43 Canons of the Church of Ireland, listed in Chapter IX of the Constitution, refers specifically to cures rather than parishes.

The soul is just as complicated as the body, just as rich and strange and puzzling. And it needs just as much attention. That does not mean that any priest can necessarily address these soul problems. But the true soul doctor is the depth psychologist.

When we think about salvation, it is worth recalling that the English word ‘salve’ is derived from the Latin salvus, which means healing. The priest, as an alter Christus is seen as one who mends broken hearts, heals hurting souls, and applies God’s soothing balm on pained and wounded lives.

The priest truly is the ‘doctor of souls.’ Perhaps theology is the technical language of soul doctoring. But the prescription is the word and the medicine is the Eucharist, regular confession and daily prayer. The proper exercise is found in prayer, regular good deeds and acts of kindness.

This full-page feature is published in the July 2018 edition of ‘Newslink,’ the Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert diocesan magazine (p. 8). It is based on a blog essay first posted on 17 April 2018.