16 December 2016

BBC’s ‘Call the Midwife’ Christmas
special has a starring role for SPG

The cast of ‘Call the Midwife’ on set in South Africa … the Christmas special honours SPG and USPG missionaries

Patrick Comerford

During my morning prayers each morning during this season of Advent, I have been using the prayers and reflections in the ‘Prayer Diary’ of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partnership in the Gospel).

USPG was formed as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel over half a century ago when two agencies, SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) and UMCA (Universities’ Mission to Central Africa), came together in 1965.

SPG has a starring role in a special Christmas edition of the BBC’s Call the Midwife.

The show follows the fortunes of the midwives and nuns at Nonnatus House, in East London, in 1961. In the Christmas special, the Revd Tom Hereward and a number of the sisters and midwives are sent by SPG to help a struggling clinic in South Africa.

USPG played a significant role in helping the BBC to research the episode, including input from the USPG General Adviser, Canon Edgar Ruddock, who was a mission companion in South Africa in the 1980s.

In the USPG December newsletter, Edgar Ruddock explains: ‘I had a lengthy phone conversation with the key researcher who tapped into my knowledge of the 1980s when many Church-founded hospitals were still operating across rural southern Africa. I was also able to point them to various older colleagues who had worked there as doctors or nurses during the 1960s.’

As a special thank you to Edgar – and much to his surprise – the show’s writers named the character of a coroner after him; look out for Edgar’s name on a brass plaque on the coroner’s office door in the new series being screened next year.

Without wanting to offer any spoiler material, USPG has offered a little sneak preview from the BBC about the Christmas special: ‘Nonnatus House receives an SOS from a tiny mission hospital. Understaffed, underfunded, and with a poor water supply, struggling Hope Clinic is faced with closure.’

The BBC adds: ‘Far from home and everything familiar, the team are both shaken and exhilarated by the challenges they face – and by the time the mission trip is over, some lives are permanently changed.’

Mission has changed a lot since the 1960s. We used to think of mission as something that ‘we over here’ did for ‘them over there’ – but now we understand that mission is ‘from everywhere to everywhere’. There is no one part of the Church that has the monopoly on Christian understanding – instead we are all learning from each other.

USPG no longer sends missionaries in the old-fashioned sense. However, USPG is still sending mission volunteers to South Africa and still supports and encourages the movement of people in mission. The difference is that the movement of people today is, again, ‘from everywhere to everywhere.’

For USPG, mission is an adventure. In recent years, USPG has supported a Cuban doctor to work in Uruguay and a Ghanaian priest to work in The Gambia. Mission today is about a global network of Christians who all have needs and skills, something they need to learn and something they have to share.

The days of Call the Midwife may be behind us, but USPG has also prepared a Christmas Nativity play that contrasts the experiences of the Holy Family and a modern rural couple in Bangladesh who have been supported by USPG trained midwives.

Praying in Advent with USPG,
(20): 16 December 2016

The TEA Project reports that poverty in Sri Lanka continues to be a growing problem, despite the country having high levels for life expectancy, literacy rate and in other social indicators (Photograph: TEA Project)

Patrick Comerford

We are approaching the end of the third week of Advent. Throughout this time of preparation for Christ’s coming at Christmas, I am praying each morning in Advent and using for my reflections the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, these prayers focus on the needs of the Church of Ceylon, the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. Last Sunday [11 December 2016], the USPG Prayer Diary told the story of children at the USPG-supported Saint Andrew’s Little Flower Nursery School in Templestowe. The school looks after the children of marginalised tea plantation workers, and the story of two five-year-olds, Durga and Sabish.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Friday 16 December 2016:

Pray for inner transformation for those within tea plantation communities that are struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence and child abuse.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland, Holy Communion):

Isaiah 56: 1-3, 6-8; Psalm 67; John 5: 33-38.

The Collect of the Day:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Continued tomorrow