08 June 2016

‘Past put behind us,
for the future take us’

Taking exciting steps into the future at Swanwick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I am spending this week at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency, USPG, at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, on the edges of Alfreton in Derbyshire.

When the council of USPG met this evening, there was a warm welcome for the decision to return to the use of the USPG, following a few difficult years in which the use of the names United Society and ‘Us’ had been a difficult rebranding that made members and supporters uneasy.

On Monday evening, there was also a welcoming and positive response when the general secretary, Janette O’Neill, announced that the society is going to return to using the name USPG.

Many people within the USPG family had felt a loss of part of the identity of their commitment to mission in the Anglican tradition with the rebranding.

In the annual report of the trustees, Janette writes: “We learned that our supporters greatly appreciated the energy, values and practical work of the Us brand, yet remain saddened by the loss our historic name USPG. In response, we have chosen to move forward with our original name, albeit in a slightly modified form; the PG of USPG now stands for ‘Partners in the Gospel’ (we hold to the conviction that the use of ‘propagation’ in ‘United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’ remains difficult to use in today’s world).”

She goes on to say: “This change honours the value that our supporters place upon our historic legacy, and bestows upon us a resounding message that the Anglican churches of Britain and Ireland want us to go on prayerfully finding innovative, relevant and practical ways to help the world church in the work of bringing the most vulnerable closer to the priorities of the full life.”

The name is not the focus, rather people are going to be captivated by the work that is going on and that we are hearing about this week. “This is not a move backward, we’re moving forward,” she said.

The Gate Lodge at the entrance to Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Canon Andrew Wingate congratulated the trustees and staff on making this move, and asked how this was going to be announced.

He was told that the decision is official now, but work is continuing on a new logo and tagline. The name is also being promoted at Greenbelt (26-29 August 2016), into autumn and the Advent in the Church press.

From the floor, people said they appreciated the decision, that they applauded it and that they saw it as wonderful progress. One speaker said it would mean the “end of embarrassment and difficult explanations.”

A team of ordinands from Westcott House, Cambridge, is leading our worship this week. As we sang our opening hymn and responded to the intercession, I was aware of the difficulties in using the name ‘Us’ in public worship.

That opening hymn, ‘Lord of the World’ by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith has these words:

Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord for the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
Lord of the word, receive your people's praise.

Lord, for our land in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care:
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

Lord, for our world where men disown and doubt you,
loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain,
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without you:
Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us –
self on the cross, and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

And then the responses to our intercessions were:

Lord hear us,
Lord graciously hear us.

The name United Society remains in the Royal Charter of the Society, but now we move on to a new stage of mission as USPG. But this week in Swanwick there certainly is a unanimous feeling of the need to “past put behind us, for the future take us.”

There is a bigger issue to face in how we define mission. As the chair of USPG, Canon Chris Chivers, pointed out this week, a generation ago mission was discussed primarily as global, but now mission in conversations generally means local mission, and often in the context of panicked and reactionary responses to reports of declining church membership. Perhaps the antidote for the Church of England is to focus instead on world mission and to look out. “When we’re outward looking, we attract people in.”

Last night we also elected five new trustees: Bishop John McDowell (Clogher), Mr Richard Barrett (Worcester), Ms Leah Nuth (London), Mr Christopher Rogers (Southwark) and the Revd Dr Daphne Green (York). Tributes were also paid to two retiring trustees: Canon Christopher Burke (Sheffield) and Nigel Wildish (London). But both Chris and Nigel are going to continue as members of the council of USPG.

Among the 18 people we remembered in the obituaries at last night’s prayers was the Cambridge Church Historian, Professor Owen Chadwick, who died last July and who had been a council member for UMCA. It was a link back to the mission agency that gave the name United and the initial U in USPG.

With Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Athens at the USPG conference in Swanwick yesterday (Photograph: Christopher Morgan, 2016)

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