Thursday, 19 November 2020

Praying together, laughing
together, and listening to
one another as USPG trustees

Autumn turns to winter in the grounds of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine … the planned venue for this week’s meeting of USPG trustees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Meetings of trustees or boards are the same everywhere.

They include budgets and spreadsheets, evaluations and re-evaluation, forward planning, business plans, organisation and structures, vision and strategy, position papers …

There are people who like this sort of meeting, but others find them a turn-off and speak of ‘bored meetings.’

But it is never so at meetings of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

For these two days (18-19 November 2020), I have been shut away from the rest of the world at a meeting of USPG trustees in London – albeit a ‘virtual meeting’ hosted by Zoom while I have been locked away in a room in the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick.

What makes USPG trustees’ meetings different, of course, is that, even in these pandemic lockdown days, our work is all about relationships within and across the Anglican Communion and about journeying with partner churches as critical but supportive friends.

We prayed together, we listened together to challenging Gospel passages, we laughed together, and we shared hopes together.

Without breaking any confidences on my part, we heard news about progress on the Communion Wide Advisory Group, bringing together work on all continents, about global relations, about work with Hope for the Future on climate change, about theological education, about next year’s Lent course, ‘For such a Time as This,’ and mission engagement. In particular, we heard from the Revd Davidson Solanki on the work of the Church in Bangladesh and the Church in the Middle East.

Davidson’s story, and his recent ordination, are among the many interesting features in the latest edition of Koinonia, the USPG magazine.

One member of the Senior Management Group shared these wise words from Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

We were reminded too that today in the calendar of the Church of England celebrates Saint Hilda of Whitby, who played a key role in the Synod of Whitby and in facilitating Church unity on these islands.

Looking forward to the future also means giving thanks for the past. And before our meeting closed this afternoon, we gave thanks in prayer for the lives of a number of people associated with the life of USPG and who died recently, including Janet Cousins, a former USPG missionary in Ethiopia, Ruth Capeling, a former USPG missionary in Zambia, Dr Sally Amos, who worked in a hospital in Zambia, and the Ven Frederick George, a former USPG missionary in Australia, Gambia and St Helena.

But I still miss the one-to-one, face-to-face contacts that are so important at meetings like this, although they never feature on the agenda.

It is over eight months since I was physically present at a meeting of USPG trustees in London last March. This week’s residential meeting ought to have taken place at the Royal Foundation Saint Katharine in Limehouse, but, like this year’s planned conference in Swanwick, Covid-19 put an end to those plans.

We are due to meet again as trustees on 10 March and 12 May 2021, Hopefully, the pandemic travel restrictions can be eased soon, and that I can attend meetings of trustees in London next year, and USPG’s annual conference, planned for 19 to 21 July 2021.

The Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick in Derbyshire … the planned venue for the USPG conference earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meeting USPG trustees and staff,
without a two-day visit to London

‘Give a Promise of Hope this Christmas’ … USPG’s Christmas project this year

Patrick Comerford

In the normal run of things I should be in London these two day (17-18 November), staying in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse, and taking part in the annual, two-day residential meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

I was booked on an early flight to Stansted yesterday, and was due to fly back to Dublin tonight. Instead, I am in the Rectory, joining the trustees in a two-day ‘virtual meeting’ through Zoom. This is not quite the same as a face-to-face meeting that allows you to notice and be sensitive to nuances in tone and conversation, to meet other trustees and staff members on the side-lines, to discuss ideas that are unlikely to get onto the agenda, to nurture friendships, and to share in common liturgical worship.

Of course, I am also missing the opportunities this two-day meeting might have offered for walks through the East End or to visit Wren churches and other historical and architectural sites in London.

During my daily prayer, I regularly use the USPG Prayer Diary, and it was a real pleasure to be chosen as one of the contributors to the current Prayer Diary, from 1 November 2020 to 23 January 2021.

Rachel Parry, Director of Global Relations at USPG, introduces the current Prayer Diary. Taking as her topic ‘Seasons for Remembering,’ she writes:

This Prayer Diary spans many moments that focus on self-giving, including the feast of Christ the King, Advent and Christmas.

The feast of Christ the King reminds us that Jesus was a king like no other, executed as a threat to the religious and political powers. Our present-day context reiterates that those who are most feared are those who expose greed, corruption and inequality. In his novel Silence, Shusaku Endo writes: ‘Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.’

Advent reminds us of the prophecy of Isaiah, of one who ‘took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’ As we continue to live through the multiple consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are challenged to rethink our view of what constitutes wholeness and health.

In the spirit of the much-forgotten penitential aspect of Advent, let us remember that the world is here for all to share; and the Christ whose birth we will celebrate at Christmas brings the promise of fulness of life to all.

Introducing the prayers for this week (15 to 21 November), with the theme ‘Where your Treasure is’, Gemma Pask, Senior Copywriter with Christians Against Poverty, writes:

With advertisers bombarding us with ‘unmissable deals’ and ‘must-haves’ ahead of Black Friday next week, many of us must find the pressure to spend intensifying. Everybody loves a bargain. But at Christians Against Poverty, we know how important it is to think carefully before parting with our cash.

Sticking to your budget is the first thing to consider. Can you definitely afford it? Do you need it or just want it? The latter is where the money you’re about to spend could help others in need. The Bible says, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6: 21). This can be easily forgotten when consumer culture takes over.

This year, why not spend a little less and do something extraordinary with the money you save? Donate to a charity. Head to the supermarket and do a food shop to pass on to your local foodbank. Start a reverse Advent calendar, adding an item every day to give to someone in need later.

As Christians, we need to be both careful and prayerful about spending our money. A Black Friday deal might be enticing. But if it won’t change your life, maybe the money could change someone else’s.

Her prayer for today (18 November 2020) is: ‘Let us pray for programmes run by our partner churches across the world that are dedicated to providing communities with good sanitation.’

I have been asked to introduce the prayers for the week after Christmas (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021), taking as my theme the International Year of Peace and Trust, which is marked next year (2021).

Other contributors to the current Prayer Diary include the Revd Alex Bennett CF, an army chaplain; Mandy Marshall, Director for Gender Justice, the Anglican Communion; Bishop Mark Strange of Moray, Ross and Caithness, and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church; Richard Reddie, Director of Justice and Inclusion, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; the Very Rev’d Canon Richard Sewell, Dean of Saint George’s College, Jerusalem; and Bishop Shourabh Pholia of Barishal in the Church of Bangladesh.

I shall be using this Prayer Diary in my morning blog postings throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and shall talk a little more after Christmas about my thoughts on the International Year of Peace and Trust.