23 June 2014

Three days in the countryside
in Hertfordshire and Essex

Dobb’s Weir near the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon … the west side of the river is in Hertfordshire, and the east side is in Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in rural Hertfordshire, on the borders of Essex and Cambridgeshire, for this year’s annual conference of Us, on the theme ‘Hearts, minds, hands, voices’ is the title of the Us annual conference for 2014.

The conference title this year comes from the hymn ‘Angel voices ever singing,’ written in 1861 by Archdeacon Francis Pott (1832-1909). Pott was a member of the committee that compiled Hymns Ancient and Modern. This hymn refers to God’s people having hearts for mission, minds inspired by the Gospel, hands that build Church and community, and voices that speak out for justice.

The Us annual conference is an opportunity to discover how the world church is putting its faith into action. The international guest speakers at this year’s conference include the Right Revd Michael Lewis, Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, and the Right Revd Munawar ‘Mano’ Rumalshah, a former General Secretary of Us (then USPG).

Bishop Michael read Oriental Studies and then theology at Oxford. He is Bishop-Visitor of the Community of the Sisters of the Love of God at Fairacres and a member of the International Commission on Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue. He represents the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East on the Anglican Consultative Council.

Bishop Mano, a former Bishop of Peshawar, Pakistan, speaks with a radical voice in his call for peace and reconciliation, and mutual respect for all faiths in spite of the persecutions Christians suffer in Pakistan. However, he understands that many Christians in the Wst have only a limited understanding of the fragility of life for Christians in Pakistan.

Us is one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies, dating from 1701, and this year is celebrating the tercentenary of its foundation in Ireland in 1714 as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, later USPG and now Us).

This year’s conference is taking place once again in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon. It all starts with registration from 2.30 p.m. this afternoon [Monday 23 June 2014] and continues until 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

The programme includes talks, workshops and ideas to take back to dioceses and parishes. The Bible studies are being led by the Revd Dr Samuel Packiam, Director of the Henry Martyn Institute, an International Centre for Research, Interfaith Relations and Reconciliation in Hyderabad, India.

Bishop Michael is presiding at the Eucharist tomorrow morning, when the preacher is the Revd Dr Ian Rock, Principal of Codrington College, Barbados. At the concluding Eucharist on Wednesday, the Right Revd Dr Jacob Ayeebo, Bishop of Tamale in Ghana, is presiding, and the General Secretary and Chief Executive of Us, Janette O’Neill, is preaching. Both Dr Rock and Bishop Ayeebo are trustees of Us.

The conference also offers opportunities to meet some world church partners linked with Us. I represent the Church of Ireland on the Council of Us, which meets formally at 8 p.m. tomorrow evening [Tuesday], and I am also on the boards of Us in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The programme tomorrow allows time to watch the World Cup match between England and Costa Rica at 5 p.m. Hopefully, there will be time too over these three days to meet old friends, and for walks in the countryside, in the Lee Valley, along the banks of the rivers and canals near Hoddesdon and Broxbourne, and to visit some of the pretty villages and timber-framed pubs in this part of Hertfordshire and Essex. Later in the week I may even spend a few hours in Cambridge.

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

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