26 July 2022

USPG family celebrates and
is inspired by mission activities
in the Anglican Communion

A quiet moment on the terrace at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddeson, the venue for the USPG conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

This has been the second day of USPG’s annual conference, with the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ (26 July 2022).

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is taking place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, and opened yesterday afternoon.

The conference aims to create space for the USPG family to gather again, to celebrate and to be inspired by the mission activities of partner churches around the Anglican Communion and to hear about USPG’s unique contribution to the world church.

This is the first time since 2019 that the conference has been a residential event, and it has been good over these two days to meet old friends and new friends involved with USPG.

We began the day this morning with Morning Prayer in the Yew Tree Hall and a Bible Study led by Bishop Reuben Mark, Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India and Bishop of Karimnagar, a predominantly rural, Dalit and tribal diocese in the South Indian state of Telangana. He is a former Professor in Homiletics in the Andhra Christian Theological College in Hyderabad. Bishop Mark trained for the ministry in the United Theological College, Bangalore, and is mow president of the governing council of the college.

Later this morning, the Revd Davidson Solanki, Regional Manager, chaired a discussion of the work of USPG and USPG’s partners in Asia. The speakers included Bishop Eggoni Pushpa Lalitha of Nandyal in the Church of South India; Bishop Azad Marshall, the Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan and Bishop of Raiwind; and the Revd Rana Khan from the Diocese of Lahore in Pakistan, who was the international interfaith dialogues assistant to Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace before becoming the Rector of Crickhowell in Wales. We also heard about the work of the Church of North India among the Dalit communities.

The Revd Suchitra Behera spoke of the difficult challenges she faces in her work for gender equality in Bangladesh. I had breakfast this morning with Suchitra Behera and her husband, Bishop Shourabh Pholia, Deputy Moderator of Church of Bangladesh and Bishop of Barisal Diocese. She is from India and has been working in Bangladesh since 1998. She has a BD and an MA, and also studied at Roehampton University in London. She is passionate about women’s rights and an advocate of women’s ordination. She has worked in International Development and was a Country Representative for Tearfund UK in Bangladesh. She is a Freelance Development Consultant and works voluntarily alongside Bishop Shourabh Pholia in the Diocese of Barishal.

During a conversation between Rebecca Boardman, USPG Regional Manager for Oceania, East Asia and Europe, and Archdeacon Leslie Nathaniel, we were updated on the situation in Ukraine and the work supported by USPG.

The Diocese in Europe and USPG has an emergency appeal to get aid to people in desperate need because of the invasion of Ukraine. This is the biggest appeal USPG has had in many years. We heard how funds raised by the appeal are supporting Christian charities and churches involved in humanitarian work both in Ukraine and responding to the arrival of refugees in neighbouring countries. This includes providing food, medicine, shelter, care for children and people who are internally displaced in Ukraine. They are supplying care at the border and beyond, including meeting the needs of people from Africa and Asia as well as Ukrainians who are fleeing the war.

More than a million refugees have fled the war in Ukraine. They have left everything behind to escape conflict. Christian charities and churches need help now as they support these people in all aspects of their lives.

In the context of post-Brexit Britain, there was a certain irony in being reminded that the Diocese in Europe is the largest diocese in the Church of England.

There was a choice of three workshops this afternoon: Comprehensive Knowledge and Climate Justice: increasing the knowledge and amplifying the voices of those impacted by climate change; and Decolonising Mission: Legacies and education; Gender Empowerment in Bangladesh.

A new report on human rights in the Philippines, The Church Called and Sent to Follow the Path of Christ, was also launched this afternoon by the Most Revd Rhee Timbang, who has been Obispo Máximo (or Primate) of Iglesia Filipina Independiente since 2017. The Obispo Maximo is the Spiritual Head, Chief Pastor, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Church.

Archbishop Rhee was ordained priest in 1982, and consecrated bishop in 1996, becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Surigao. He has chaired a number of fellowships, formations and movements that advocate for human rights, social justice and peace. They include the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Pilgrims for Peace, One Voice and the Ecumenical Bishops Forum. He has been involved in several development programmes and ministries that promote and uphold human dignity, including the Abundant Life Programme supported by USPG.

The report to the meeting of the USPG Council noted that my second three-year term as a trustee came to an end last year (July 2021).

The conference continues this evening with Night Prayer and entertainment by the Igorot Dancers.

Sadly, many of the bishops attending the conference have to leave High Leigh this evening to attend the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, because the opening day has been brought forward. In addition, the planned rail strike tomorrow (Wednesday 27 July) threatens to curtail or limit some of the programme’s plans for the third day, and I like many others have to leave High Leigh this evening.

• To donate to the Ukraine emergency appeal, visit www.uspg.org.uk/ukraine

The White Swan on the High Street in Hoddesdon … rated by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Tuesday 26 July 2022

‘The field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom’ (Matthew 13: 38) … fields of green and gold near High Leigh in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week, taking part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). The conference, which began yesterday, has the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

In the Calendar of the Church today, we remember Anne and Joachim, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a lesser festival (26 July 2022). In the Parish of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and All Saints’ Church, Calverton, the intercessions this week also remember the Revd Charles George Perceval, Rector of Calverton, who was born on 25 December 1796 and died on this day, 26 July 1858, aged 61.

Charles Perceval was the son of an Irish peer, Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden, of Liscarroll Castle, near Buttevant, and Kanturk Castle, Co Cork. Perceval was a devout High Churchman and a supporter of the Tractarians. Many of the Tractarian leaders met in his Rectory in Calverton, including Edward Bouverie Pusey, John Henry Newman and Edward Manning, and some of the Tracts for the Times were planned if not written in Calverton.

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Virgin Mary with her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, in a mosaic by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969) in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen views)

Common Worship provides this Gospel reading for the Eucharist on today’s Lesser Festival commemorating Anne and Joachim, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Matthew 13: 16-17 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to his disciples:] 16 ‘But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

On the other hand, the Church of Ireland lectionary provides this Gospel reading for celebrations of the Eucharist today:

Matthew 13: 36-43 (NRSVA):

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

Gnasher and Gnipper in the Beano always seemed to be ready to gnash their teeth

Today’s reflection:

In my imagination, when I was a child, not only were the summers long and sunny, but weekend entertainment was simpler and less complicated. The highlights of the weekend seemed to be Dr Who and Dixon of Dock Green, and the weekly editions of the Eagle and the Beano.

I may have been just a little too old (16) for the first appearance of Gnasher (1968), the pet dog of Dennis the Menace in the Beano.

The G- tagged onto the beginning of the name of both Gnasher and his son Gnipper is pronounced silently, just like the silent P at the beginning of Psmith, the Rupert Psmith in so many PG Wodehouse novels.

Most of the Beano speech bubbles for both Gnasher and Gnipper consist of normal English words beginning with the letter ‘N’ with a silent ‘G’ added to the beginning, as in ‘Gnight, Gnight.’

I was a little too old for the introduction of Gnasher. Nonetheless, my friends in my late teens and early 20s loved Gnasher and Gniper, joked about those silent ‘Gs’ and even recalled how as children we had joked about ‘weeping and G-nashing of teeth.’

There is very little to joke about in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 13: 36-43). The idea of people being thrown into the furnace of fire is not a very appealing image for children, and so to joke about it is a childhood method of coping.

Nor is the idea of people being thrown into the furnace of fire a very inviting image after a week in which we have suffered burning heats and raging heat not only here but across Europe.

It is worth reminding ourselves that throughout history, humanity has stooped to burn what we dislike and what we want to expunge, and we have done it constantly.

We have been burning books as Christians since Saint Athanasius ordered the burning of texts in Alexandria in the year 367.

In the Middle Ages and later, we burned heretics at the stake. The Inquisition burned heretics and Jews in public squares. Heretics were burned publicly as an accompanying theme for the outdoor sermons of San Bernardino da Siena in the early 15th century, along with mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, playing cards … even musical instruments, and, of course, books, song sheets, artworks, paintings and sculpture.

In his sermons, the book-burning friar regularly called for Jews and gays to be either isolated from society or eliminated from the human community.

In Florence, the supporters of Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects, including cosmetics, art, and books in 1497.

More recently, the Nazis staged regular book burnings, especially burning books by Jewish writers, including Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein.

Extremists of all religious and political persuasions want to burn the symbols and totems of their opponents, whether it is Pastor Terry Jones burning the Quran and effigies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in Florida or jihadists burning the Twin Towers in New York.

The limits of our extremists seem to be defined by their inflammatory words.

But who is being burned in this Gospel reading?

Who is doing the burning?

And who will be weeping and gnashing their teeth?

Contrary to many shoddy readings of this Gospel reading, Christians are not asked to burn anyone or anything at all. And, if we have enemies, we are called not to burn them but to live with them, even love them. Judgment is left with God, while we are left to love and to pray.

Too often we think of who might be excluded from God’s plans rather than who is counted in. When we do that, we descend to our greatest depths rather than reaching our potential heights.

Today’s Prayer:

Collect (Common Worship):

Lord God of Israel,
who bestowed such grace on Anne and Joachim
that their daughter Mary grew up obedient to your word
and made ready to be the mother of your Son:
help us to commit ourselves in all things to your keeping
and grant us the salvation you promised to your people;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Tuesday 26 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the National Council of Churches in Korea, a thriving example of ecumenism, as they work together to promote peace.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

An icon of Saint Anne with her child, the Virgin Mary, with her child, the Christ Child, in the Church of Saint Eleftherios and Saint Anna in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org