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)

Challenges that bring home
the crucial importance of
mission in an unjust world

Looking forward to the next steps in mission with USPG … at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

As part of the three-day USPG Conference this week, the Council of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) met in the High Leigh Conference Centre last night [25 June 2019].

John Neilsen, USPG’s chair of trustees since last year’s conference in July 2018, reported how USPG has made several significant strides forward. The trustees have set a clear path to achieving financial sustainability over the next two years, there are several new trustees, and the Revd Duncan Dormor, who has been General Secretary since January 2018, has provide USPG with strategic and energetic leadership.

‘The need for a proactive Anglican mission agency remains very clear,’ he said in his report. ‘We wish to stand closely alongside our partners around the world, many of whom witness to the Gospel in conditions of great challenge, not least in facing poverty and risks to personal security.’

The year 2018 has been one of significant change for USPG. Canon Chris Chivers retired after six years in the chair, and the trustees who retired during the year include Canon Joabe Cavalcanti, John Chilver, the Revd Dr Olubunmi Fagbemi, Rosemary Kempsell (Vice-Chair), Bishop John McDowell of Clogher, Leah Skouby and Jane Watkeys. New trustees include Sheila Cook, Bishop Jo Penberthy, the Revd Dr Carlton Turner and Martin Uden.

At last year’s council meeting in High Leigh (3 July 2018), I was elected a trustee for a second three-year term. At last night’s council meeting, Catriona Duffy and Catherine Wickens were appointed as new trustees, the Revd Canon Dr Daphne Green (Vice-Chair), the Revd Christopher Rogers, and Richard Barrett were reappointed as trustees for a second three-year term each, and the Revd Judith Ware, Diocese of Manchester, was elected to the council.

During the past year, USPG bought new offices at 3 Trinity Street, Southwark. It is a sign of commitment to the long-term ministry of USPG and should be the society’s base for many years to come. The new chapel was filled for the commissioning service on 21 March 2019.

John Neilsen thanked USPG’s staff for their ‘support and dedication through the challenges of moving, first to temporary offices … and then to the new building.’

Looking ahead, USPG recognises its greatest current challenge is to enthuse many more churches and individuals across Britain and Ireland to share in this exciting work, in practical ways as well as with prayer and financial support.

The Revd Duncan Dormor spoke of how USPG lives out its mission in the midst of the world’s challenges. His report spoke of the horror of attacks on churches in Sri Lanka and an unprecedented second cyclone in Southern Africa, with extensive flooding and a cholera outbreak.

‘These events bring home in stark terms the crucial importance of USPG’s engagement with the issues of climate justice and inter-religious living, as well as other key challenges, like migration and gender justice.

‘All of these challenges are truly global in nature and remind us of the fundamental interdependence of the world, and the deep sense of connection between the churches of the Anglican Communion ... They shape the mission priorities of our partner churches.’

USPG has developed a strategic vision for the coming years, outlined in the document, Open to Encounter: Mission in the 21st Century. The process of reflection on what it means to be a mission agency in the 21st century has deepened the commitment to addressing the common challenges.

Three high level strategic priorities have been identified: to Rethink Mission, to Energise Church and Community, and to Champion Justice. These three priorities are delivered through six strategic programmes:

Mission theology: to support, facilitate and encourage creative initiatives in missiological theology within the Anglican Communion and to provide opportunities for dissemination and wider discussion.

Leadership development: To assist in the development of collaborative and mutually accountable leadership within the Anglican Communion.

Strengthening capacity: to accompany the provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion as they further develop their capacity to deliver their mission through integrated programmes that serve the needs of their churches and communities in holistic mission.

Mission Engagement in Britain and Ireland: to strengthen and equip the churches of Britain and Ireland to engage in world-wide mission through developing USPG’s engagement with dioceses and a wide range of Church networks, and providing opportunities for individuals to experience the world-wide church.

Policy development and alliance-building: to provide high quality research about faith-based mission and development that informs best practice and influences secular and religious policy- and decision-makers.

Supporting locally prioritised initiatives: To strengthen churches in the Anglican Communion as they seek to tackle injustice by sharing skills, experience and resources to support locally prioritised initiatives.

The conference comes to a close later today.

A walk by the lake at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)