20 July 2021

‘Who is my neighbour?’
A question for the Church
in ‘Such a Time as This’

The Good Samaritan Window in Christ Church, Spanish Point, Co Clare … the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ ran through today’s discussions at the annual conference of USPG (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I spent much of today online, taking part in the second day of this year’s annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The conference was due to take place from in the High Leigh Conference Centre outside Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. However, this year’s USPG conference is now a virtual conference, and all conference sessions are taking place online. Appropriately, the conference theme is ‘Such a Time as This.’ We have not witnessed ‘such a time as this’ on a global scale of pandemic, ecological crisis and racial divisions in living memory. This year’s conference is addressing questions such as:

Four live-streamed sessions are taking place throughout these three days, and today’s themes have included ‘Prayer, Presence and Provision in the Pandemic’ and ‘Racial Justice: Recovering Spiritualities, Restoring Justice.’

This morning we looked at ‘Prayer, Presence and Provision in the Pandemic.’

This morning’s speakers constantly returned to the question: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ The question was first asked this morning in our Bible Study, led by Canon Delene Mark from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, as she invited us to look at Luke 10: 25-29, and to ask what does it mean to love our neighbour living in this pandemic era.

She suggested that the natural instinct is protect ourselves, our families, and our immediate neighbours. But looking at two other passages (I Corinthians 13: 4-7; I John 3: 16-21), she reminded us of love that must be expressed in truth and action, that compels us to show compassion and mercy and to seek justice for all.

She also shared this prayer:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you will work for justice, equality and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.

Dr Yap Wei Aun of the Diocese of West Malaysia in the Church of the Province of South-East Asia, also took the example of the Good Samaritan, and asked who is our neighbour in this pandemic crisis. He reinforced the idea that no-one is safe until all are safe, and many speakers repeated the need for global vaccine equity.

Two archdeacons from the Diocese of Southwark in the Church of England, Archdeacon Rosemarie Mallett of Croydon and Archdeacon Alastair Cutting of Lewisham and Greenwich, shared a conversation about their experiences of living in this Covid-19 era.

They discussed how churches are facing real needs for reconstruction, resilience and repair, and how people need to express lament for their losses, including loss of income, loss of people, loss of jobs and loss of celebrations, as well as underlying anger and needs for forgiveness.

They shared their experiences of many parishes suffering economically but growing spiritually. Archdeacon Alastair said the Church needs to give more, to share more and to love more.

The windows in the USPG office in London … a background for some speakers at this week’s USPG Conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

About 120 people took part in the conference today, chaired by the Revd Paul Gurnham. Other speakers this morning included Bishop Jacques Boston of Guinea in the Church of the Province of West Africa, and Attorney Floyd Lalwet, the Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.

Our worship this morning was led by the ‘Voice of Praise Choir’ from Saint Matthew’s Church in Central Zimbabwe and this afternoon was led by the Diocese of Belize Youth Group.

This afternoon, we also received greetings from Archbishop Hosam Naoum of Jerusalem and Archbishop Howard Gregory of the West Indies, Bishop of Jamaica.

Our afternoon discussions focused on ‘Racial Justice: Recovering Spiritualities, Restoring Justice.’

This began with our Bible Study was led by the Revd Augustine Tanner Ihm, a curate in Manchester and winner of the Church Times ‘Theology Slam 2020.’ His study was based on the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10).

He reminded us of the death of George Floyd in the US and the recent racist abuse of three black English footballers, including one from Manchester where he is a curate. He spoke of why Black Lives Matter and of compassion for the marginalised, and challenged us to think about those times when we have been complicit in systemic racism. Where have we seen overt or covert racism? What challenges might we be challenged to make?

The Revd Bertram Gayle, from the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in the Church of the Province of the West Indies (CPWI), spoke of the Church in Jamaica, which has been disestablished for 150 years. But this is a very different experence to that of the Church of Ireland since then. He believes the Church in Jamaica has been slow to embrace indigenisation and needs to divest itself of power, prestige, pageantry, pomp and privilege, to embrace intentional cultural engament and to become more Jamaican.

Archdeacon Leslie Nathaniel, Archdeacon of the East, Germany and Northern Europe, spoke of how the Diocese in Europe is a multicultural diocese that is working in practical way to challenge racial injustice, seeking to move from exclusion to inclusion, from lament to action.

Bishop Fanuel Magangani of the Diocese of Northern Malawi in the Church of the Province of Central Africa reminded us through a visual presentation from Likoma Cathedral of the connection between Malawi and UMCA and USPG.

Today’s programme included a meeting of the trustees of USPG, when my six-year term as a trustee of USPG came to an end at that meeting along with two other trustees, Richard Barrett and Martin Canning. I may be stepping down as a trustee, but I am cretainly not stepping back from USPG, and hope to continue and develop what has been almost a lifelong commitment to USPG.

At previous conferences, in both High Leigh and Swanwick, I have spoken at or facilitated workshops, chaired some conference sessions, and presided at the closing Eucharist. I am missing the opportunity meet many old friends and colleagues in person. At every conference, much of the important personal contacts are made on the sidelines, at meals, in workshops, or even during the social occasions at the end of the day. The daily Eucharist at conferences have brought us together in communion and fellowship.

I am missing all these opportunities over these three days … including friendships formed in the evenings in pubs like King William IV, the White Swan, the Star and the Rye House, the opportunities for walks along the Lea Valley or in the Hertfordshire and Essex countryside around High Leigh, Hoddesdon and Broxbourne, visits to neighbouring Bishop’s Stortford, Newport and Cambridge, or a late lunch in the Fish and Eels after the last day of conference.

Perhaps, too, I had become a little too comfortable with flying in and out of Stansted Airport regularly for trustees’ meetings and conferences.

The conference continues tomorrow (10 am to 12 noon), when the topic is ‘The Cry of Creation: Creativity in the Church.’

An afternoon stroll on an afternoon in July along the Lea Valley that separates Hertfordshire and Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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