26 June 2012

‘Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God’

The stories of returned volunteers provided a iwndow in the world church at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Today’s programme at the USPG conference in High Leigh is organised as a stand-alone one-day conference focussing on the Experience Exchange Programme (EEPS).

We are gathered in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, this week and today we are taking a close look at USPG’s self-funding volunteer programme, which has provided opportunities for over 400 volunteers for over half a century.

The conference theme is “Face to Face” and once again we heard about “Face to Face” encounters that have been enriching for the whole church. Their stories this morning gave us a window into the world church. Perhaps some people today were surprised that not all of the “EEPs” (EEP volunteers) are young, nor are they all Anglicans.

USPG’s EEP co-ordinator, Canon Habib Nader, talked about “very exciting times.” The programme allows volunteers to experience being part of a bigger global family and to come back and share that story with meaning.

He told us there have been over 300 EEPs since 1988 – including 200 Anglicans, 90 Methodists and 22 “others.” He said 84 came from a vicarage or manse, 130 were gap year or pre-university students, 180 were post-university, experiencing a “mature gap year,” and there are 38 Greenbelt Festival recruits.

What happens when they return? Habib told us that 91 former EEPs are now full-time church workers, in ordained, in mission, in key NGO positions, and so on; 245 attended the ‘Reunion 2008’ – and 25 married fellow EEPs. He also thanked the wonderful hosts who have accepted EEPs over the year.

From the Church of South India, Sister Kasthuri Manickam spoke of her work at the Women’s Workers’ Training Centre in Nagalapuram, India, and the experience of EEP volunteers. From South Africa, Canon Rob Penrith of Saint John’s Church, Port Elizabeth, spoke of his experience of seven EEPs working in his parish since 1998, including musicians, looking after young people who need help with homework and extra care. He said it was about “Face-to-Face” encounters and transformation.

Helen Ledger spoke of her experience as an EEP volunteer for nine months – six in Nagalapuram and three in Sri Lanka – working on women’s issues and training development workers.

Catriona Macdonald, who had been a nurse and a music teacher, did a Celta course before going to India.

Hannah Silcock told how she first came across the EEPS programme at Greenbelt, when she was a16-year-old looking for a gap-year opportunity two years later. When she was 18, she spent six months in South Africa. She spoke of how throughout those years a guiding thought has been the prophetic question: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6: 8). She is now a student in Birmingham University, studying theology and philosophy.

Faye Woolard, who is now working with a mental health NGO, was an EEP volunteer in South Africa. She said the transition on her return to England was difficult, but she back with great hope, faith is a challenge, found the transition on her return to England.

Gerry Lynch from Saint George’s Church, Belfast, spoke from the floor about his experience as an EEP volunteer in South Africa.

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