21 June 2011

‘The world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it’

The High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire ... the venue for the USPG conference, ‘Pushing boundaries’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Wholeness and healing were the focus of this morning’s [Tuesday’s] discussions at the annual conference of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission. Dr David Evans said USPG’s overall policy and programme direction: the revitalising of primary health care (PHC).

The Bishop of Cairo, the Right Revd Dr Mouneer Anis, who spent 26 years in medical practice before becoming a bishop, drew on his own experiences as a doctor and a bishop in Egypt.

A pressing need in the 21st century is the need for health care, which is a basic human right and which underpins the millennium development goals. As Anglicans, he said, we need to be involved in restoring wholeness, and to follow in the steps of Jesus who sent his disciples to heal the sick and preach the kingdom.

Bishop Mouneer pointed out that the healing ministry of Christ was linked with his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and the outcome of healing always was that people give glory to God. When the Church offers healing, we walk in the steps of Christ and fulfil his mission, offering a practical response to the command to love our neighbour.

He recalled the beginnings of the medical mission of the Anglican Church in Egypt., which is traced back to Dr Frank Harpur (right), a TCD-trained doctor and CMS missionary from Ireland who is well known for eradicating the parasite enclostomi in Egypt.

Dr Harpur began working on the Nile on a floating house boat that he used as a hospital, visiting villages on the banks of the Nile and in the Nile delta, treating villagers. From this work, the Harpur Memorial Hospital was built in Menouf in 1910. “And they are still talking about Harpur,” said Dr Mouneer, a former director of the hospital.

Providing figures on the state of the health of the world’s children, he said: “Looking at all these sad figures, the Church cannot be silent.” The work may be like a drop of water in the ocean, but we should do our best to relieve the suffering of people, in that way becoming partakers in Christ’s mission and compassion, he said.

We need to translate the good news of the Gospel into action Bishop Mouneer said. “There is an abundance of preaching in the Church, but the world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it.”

He said health care is showing the Gospel in action. He recalled that he is asked frequently by Muslim friends in Egypt when they see the work of Christian-run hospitals, why Christians care in such a way. He answers because Jesus taught us to love everyone, and because he loved everyone. Love involves action and sacrifice. Healing and health are not only physical but holistic. The healing ministry is a vocation and not just a job, and practising medicine is a calling and not a job.

Bible study

This morning’s Bible study was led by the primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil (IEAB), Archbishop Maurício de Andrade, who introduced us to John 6: 1-15, the story of the feeding of the 5,000.

John 6: 1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

‘Vulnerability and communion’

Before we read this passage, we were asked two questions:

● What do I have to offer in my life?

● What do I need to better serve the Lord?

After the passage was read twice, we were asked what word came to your attention, and to share this. And we were asked to consider the vulnerability of the boy in the story.

Archbishop Maurício pointed out that the answer to the problem that day came from a boy, not from Christ or from the Disciples. The Disciples did not have the answer, boy element of surprise for the miracle, with bread and fish leading to solidarity and communion. No-one expected anything from a boy, but he shared barley bread, the bread for poor people, and fish. He offers all he has, from the periphery and from the marginalised. Sometimes the solution comes from the periphery and not from the centre, he said. Food comes from creation, and we need to recognise the opportunities for miracles.

After Archbishop Maurício shared images from his dioceses in Brazil, we shared in the prayer, “Bakerwoman God,” by Alla Bozarth-Campbell:

Bakerwoman God,
I am your living Bread.
Strong, brown, Bakerwoman God.
I am your low, soft, and being-shaped loaf.

I am your rising bread,
well-kneaded by some divine and knotty pair of knuckles,
by your warm earth-hands.
I am bread well-kneaded.
Put me in fire, Bakerwoman God,
put me in your own bright fire.
I am warm, warm as you from fire.
I am white and gold, soft and hard, brown and round.
I am so warm from fire.

Break me, Bakerwoman God!
I am broken under your caring Word.
Bakerwoman God,
Remake me.

The conference session this morning began with an early Eucharist, celebrated according to the rite of the Church of Bangladesh, presided over by the Moderator of the Church, Bishop Paul Sarker. During the day, we also received a message on a video clip from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

We were also joined today by the Revd Dr Alan McCormack, who is a former Dean of Residence at Trinity College Dublin, and chaired the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission when I was secretary. He is now the Rector of Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate and Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, Foster Lane, and the Archdeacon of London’s nominee on the council of USPG.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a director of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland. He represents the Church of Ireland on the council of USPG.

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