19 July 2017

Churches remain on the ground
in Greece for the long-term

A plaque in a quiet corner at the High Leigh Conference Centre, the venue for this year’s USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

While NGOs are moving out of Greece to the next humanitarian crisis, declaring that there is no crisis in Greece, the Churches are there, remaining on the ground for the long-term.

Bishop David Hamid of the Diocese of Europe was speaking this morning of how the Church is responding to current crises. In his focus on the work of the Anglican Church in Greece, he told the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning that 60,000 refugees and migrants are still stuck in Greece, and as they move on they are replaced by more.

He said the Churches in Greece had moved from a crisis to a Kairos moment, finding they are present at the right and appropriate moment.

The response to the crisis in Greece began when Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Church in Athens tried to respond to the plight of 17,000 refugees in November 2014. By June 2015, this number had almost doubled to 31,000, and there was a shortage of food and water on the islands.

The Churches came together following an alert about 500 people who were stranded in August 2015 on the small island of Farmakonisi, which is barren and has no water.

The story of three-year-old Alan Kurdi from Syria who drowned on a beach in Turkey in September 2015 mobilised a wider public response. USPG responded immediately and launched an appeal.

But by September 2015, there were 5,000 arrivals a day in Greece. Bishop David described this as the greatest crisis to hit Europe since World War II, but he said it had brought the churches together in their response.

I was chairing the question and answer session this morning. The questions he put to the conference asked:

‘How important is the Anglican partnership that USPG brings? What added dimension does this bring to our work of emergency relief and development?’

‘How do you balance and weigh up the often competing priorities: immediate aid to relieve suffering; long-term assistance and accompaniment; advocacy for justice and change? What are the criteria for judgment?’

With Bishop David Hamid at the USPG conference in High Leigh this morning

In our Bible study this morning, Bishop Margaret Vertue of the Diocese of False Bay, South Africa, looked at today’s Gospel reading in the Lectionary (Matthew 11: 25-27) and reflected on the role of the Church in the area of gender-based violence.

God is always with me, but, she asked, am I always with God?

She spoke of the plight of women forced into prostitution and people trafficking, and the victims, male and female, of gender-based, domestic and sexual violence.

She described the Gospels as ‘God’s photo-album of Jesus’ ministry,’ and challenged us to think of where we might be in that album. ‘You may be the answer to the prayer you are praying.’

Once again she challenged us in those words of wisdom from the Carthusian monks of Grand Chartreuse, and asked: ‘I became human for you, will you become God with me?’

In our final session, members of USPG’s fundraising and communications and mission engagement teams spoke of their work as staff members, the Advent focus on Madagascar and of future conferences.

This year’s conference came to a close in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, this afternoon [19 July 2017] with our Closing Eucharist, at which the celebrant was Bishop Saw John Wilme of Toungoo in Myanmar.

The preacher was Janette O’Neill, who told the conference this week that she is about to retire as USPG’s general secretary. The deacon was the Revd Dr Evie Vernon, USPG’s Programme Adviser on Theological Education, and our closing prayers were led by Canon Chris Chivers, Principal of Westcott House in Cambridge and chair of USPG trustees.

The bell tower above the old house at High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A modern willow sculpture at
an old Tudor pub in Hoddesdon

‘The Willow Arch’ by Hazel Godfrey at the Star, a late mediaeval pub in Hoddesdon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Hoddesdon has an unusual combination of late mediaeval and stark 20th century architecture. A short walk along Lord Street leads from the High Leigh Conference Centre into the centre of Hoddesdon.

On the way into Hoddesdon, Lord Street is lined with engaging examples of Victorian and early 20th century housing. But Tower Heights in the centre of the town is one of the ugly examples of late 20th century tower blocks.

Yet, Hoddesdon has a number of interesting and historical listed buildings, including Rawdon House and Rathmore House, and late mediaeval public houses such as the White Swan, King William IV and the Star.

Close to High Leigh, the King William IV at No 197 Lord Street is a 17th century timber-framed building, with modern brick and roughcast walls, and an old tile roof.

The White Swan in Hoddesdon … ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn’ in this part of Hertfordshire and Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The White Swan was once described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn’ in this part of Hertfordshire and Essex, and it has been an old favourite of mine since I first took part in a conference in High Leigh in 2006.

But I also wrote about the Star just two years ago [20 July 2015], following the discovery of a series of 16th century wall paintings of ‘national importance,’ which were uncovered in September 2014.

The Tudor-era paintings, located on plasterwork the north wall of the bar, depict half-figures and biblical verses. The architects believed there might be more images on other walls and began further investigations as well as examining further details found on one of the beams supporting the ceiling.

The paintings depict fascinating examples of Elizabethan clothing and millinery and exhibit a high level of technique. At the time, it was said discoveries of this quality are extremely rare and that the implications for art history give them national importance. The paintings had been hidden behind panelling for hundreds of years in the pub originally known as the Lyon and later as the Salisbury Arms.

A Tudor skyline in Hoddesdon yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Today this is the Star, and it is just three or four doors further along the High Street from the White House. When I walked into Hoddesdon from High Leigh yesterday [18 July 2017] to buy The Guardian, I also stopped at the Star, next door to the local newsagent, to admire ‘The Willow Arch,’ a new sculptural work by the local contemporary Basketmaker and Willow Artist, Hazel Godfrey.

Hazel Godfrey makes her sculptural work using natural materials, primarily willow. She is committed to an ethos of sustainability and manages her own willow plantation in North Hertfordshire, which provides for the mainstay of her weaving, although she also uses other natural materials such as cane, bark, leaves and found items.

Hazel was born and raised in Hertfordshire and studied for an honours BA in Applied Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. She has been a practising artist since 2008, when her work formed the centrepiece of a Gold Award winning stand at the Chelsea Flower Show.

On her Facebook page, Hazel says she is inspired by nature and loves working with natural materials. Her work is in private collections and gardens, nature reserves, community spaces and schools throughout Britain.

Hazel takes part in Herts Open Studios annually and is a member of Herts Visual Arts, Hertfordshire Basketry, and the National Basketmakers’ Association. She is involved annually with the arts side of the Rhythms of the World music festival in Hitchin. More recently, she led the county basketry group in making work to celebrate Luton’s involvement in the Olympics.

Today [19 July 2017] is the last day of USPG’s annual conference in High Leigh. Last night, the skies broke, and Hoddesdon was covered by a lengthy and heavy thunderstorm. I may not be walking into Hoddesdon this morning to buy the paper, but it was inspiring yesterday to see a new work of art that was connected with nature in this part of England.

The Star on High Street, Hoddesdon, with Hazel Godfrey’s ‘Willow Arch’ to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)