26 June 2019

Where do we hear the voice
of prophecy in a world of
oppression and injustice?

With Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland and the Revd Duncan Dormor, General Secretary of USPG, at High Leigh on the closing day of the USPG conference

Patrick Comerford

Who are the oppressed, the oppressors in our societies today? And where is the Prophetic Voice of the Church to be heard today in the midst of oppression and injustice?

The Very Revd Gloria Mapangdol from the Philippines was leading the Bible discussion this morning at the High Leigh Conference Centre, on the last day of 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.

Our Bible studies each morning have been led by Gloria Mapangdol. Her passage this morning [26 June 2019] was Amos 4: 1-3:

1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’
2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness:
The time is surely coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
even the last of you with fish-hooks.
3 Through breaches in the wall you shall leave,
each one straight ahead;
and you shall be flung out into Harmon,
says the Lord.

She introduced us to how the Prophet Amos talks first about Israel’s neighbours and what they are doing, before pointing his arrows at Israel. Bashan was known for its fertile land, great oaks, and its livestock. But the poor were oppressed there, the rich were the oppressor, and the families of the rich abetted in the oppression, gaining from it.

Who are the cows of Bashan? Are they cult worshippers of the mighty bull of Samaria? Are they the greedy and the wealthy and pampered women? Gloria Mapangdol suggested they are all who exploit the poor, both men and women, and presented this passage a warning to all who would exploit the poor, both men and women.

Amos condemns them for putting economic prosperity above justice, preferring wealth to justice, ignoring their covenant obligations in pursuit of their own greed.

He spoke of the consequences, with people being led away as prisoners and captives, dragged out alive, and expelled to an unknown destination. But hope is found later in Chapter 9, with the promises of the Lord restoring the fortunes of his people.

She insisted our spirituality cannot be disconnected from the surrounding social circumstances. It must be incarnational, and the church must be faithful to its mission.

This is a challenge not only to clergy and church leaders, but to all of us, she said, as she left us with three questions for discussion:

● Who are the ‘cows of Bashan’ in your community?

● How does your government or church treat the poor and the marginalised?

● How can you become the modern Amos in your given context?

Later this morning, there was a moving presentation on ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ from Cathrine Fungai Ngangira from Zimbabwe, an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, Durham University.

She too asked where the prophetic voice of the Church is to be heard today. Who speaks truth to power today? Perhaps it is time for the church to speak the truth with power, she suggested.

The prophetic voice of the Church is not just in words, but in deeds too, she said. Action speaks louder than words.

Looking forward, Canon Richard Bartlett introduced USPG resources, planned events, including the USPG celebration at All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, when the preacher is Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel and Ossory (21 September), regional days this year and next year, next year’s ‘Rethinking Mission’ conference in Saint John’s Church, Waterloo (21 March 2020), and next year’s USPG conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire (20-22 July 2020).

We also discussed hospitality and USPG’s involvement in next year’s Lambeth Conference at Canterbury.

The celebrant at our closing Eucharist in the early afternoon was Bishop Calvert Leopold Friday from the Windward Islands. The preacher was Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland, who has had close links with USPG in Ireland and with the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.

These have been three days with inspiring speakers, interactive workshops and opportunities to meet old friends and hear new voices engaged in mission.

The weather has been hot and sultry since I arrived on Monday morning, with a heavy rainstorm throughout Monday night and early Tuesday. But it stayed dry today, and in the afternoon I decided to return to Cambridge to browse in some of my favourite bookshops.

I am booked on a flight from Stansted to Dublin later this evening, and I have a busy round of meetings tomorrow in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

At the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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