Monday, 24 June 2019

Listening to the ‘Prophetic
Voice of the Church’ at
High Leigh with USPG

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddeson … the venue for the annual USPG Conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying at the High Leigh Conference Centre on the edges of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire for three days, taking part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The conference theme this year is The Prophetic Voice of the Church, and this is linked to the USPG Bible study course with the same name.

I arrived on early morning flight from Dublin to Stansted, in time for breakfast in Cambridge, and visits to Sidney Sussex College to see the last of this summer's wisteria and to some of the bookshops in the heart of Cambridge for a little browsing.

After a meeting of trustees and with volunteers, the conference opened this afternoon [24 June 2019] with welcomes and introductions from the chair of the USPG trustees, John Neilson, who spoke about exciting developments this year, including the move to new offices at 5 Trinity Street, the Rethinking Mission conference in Birmingham Cathedral in March and the international consultation two week ago in Barbados.

We marked the Feastday of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist in our opening worship this afternoon, which was led by the Archdeacon of Worcester, the Ven Robert Jones. Today’s feast and celebration had added meaning for me, for on this day 18 years ago [24 June 2001] I was ordained priest by Archbishop Walton Empey of Dublin in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Later in the afternoon, the general secretary of USPG, the Revd Duncan Dormor, presented a review of the past year, challenging us to ask ourselves, ‘What does it really mean to be the body of Christ?’ and the deeper meaning of the Greek concept of φῐλοξενῐ́ᾱ (philoxenia), which goes beyond hospitality to delight and openness to encounter. He highlighted USPG’s participation in Greenbelt last year, partnership with the Independent Philippine Church in the face of human rights abuses, a celebration at All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London, a major Anglican East Asia regional meeting in Korea, promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Bray Day celebrations this year, the discussions at the Rethinking Mission conference in Birmingham, the international consultation in Barbados, and next year’s Lambeth Conference.

Our speaker after dinner this evening is the Right Revd Dr Probal Kanto Dutta, Bishop of Calcutta and Deputy Moderator of the Church of North India, who is offering a North Indian perspective on the Prophetic Voice of the Church, and we end the day with night prayer.

We begin the day tomorrow [25 June 2019] with the Morning Eucharist celebrated by the Very Revd Dr Gloria Lita D Mapangdol, President and Dean of Saint Andrew's Theological Seminary in the Philippines, who is leading the Bible studies at the conference this week.

Tuesday also takes the form of a one-day conference, and the principal speaker tomorrow morning is the Right Revd Dr Victor Attae-Baffoe, Bishop of Cape Coast.

Later in the morning, we have a migration panel, presented by Nadine Daniel, the National Refugee Welcome Co-ordinator at the Archbishops’ Council in the Church of England. The speakers and guests include:

● the Revd Canon St Obed Arist Kojo Baiden of the Anglican Diocese of The Gambia;

● the Revd Dennis Obidiegwu, chaplain of Saint Andrew’s Church, Morocco;

● the Revd Canon Kirilee Reid, chaplain and refugee officer in Calais.

We also hope to hear snippets and stories from people who have returned from ‘Journey with Us’ programmes in Tanzania, St Vincent and elsewhere.

The trustees and the senior management team meet after lunch, and in the first afternoon session our speakers include the Right Revd Calvert Leopold Friday, Bishop of the Windward Islands in the Church of the Province of the West Indies, and the Right Revd Dickson Chilongani, Bishop of Central Tanganyika in Tanzania.

Later in the afternoon, there is a choice from five workshops to choose from:

● Mission stories from North India (with Bishop Probal Kanto Dutta of Calcutta);

● Going back, going forward, what is home? (with a Migration Panel);

● Engaging Church and Community in Global Mission (with Davidson Solanki and Fran Mate);

● The Prophetic Voice in the UK and Ireland (with the Revd Duncan Dormor and the Revd Evie Vernon O’Brien).

● Journey with Us (with Habib Nader).

Before the end of the day, there is also a meeting of the USPG Council, closing with night prayer.

On Wednesday, the day begins again with a Bible study led by Gloria Mapangdol from the Philippines, and morning discussions on Speaking Truth to Power, led by Cathrine Fungai Ngangira from Zimbabwe, who is an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, Durham University, and on the 2020 Lambeth Conference, led by Canon Richard Bartlett.

The celebrant at our closing Eucharist is Bishop Calvert Leopold Friday from the Windward Islands. The preacher was supposed to be Bishop Ossie Swartz from South Africa, but instead Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland has been invited to preach.

These are three days with inspiring speakers, interactive workshops and opportunities to meet old friends and hear new voices engaged in mission. Join me over the next three days as I reflect on this conference with USPG in High Leigh.

The weather is hot and sultry, but if it remains dry I may be back in Cambridge on Wednesday evening to return to those bookshops.

The last of the summer wisteria in Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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