Thursday, 19 November 2020

Praying together, laughing
together, and listening to
one another as USPG trustees

Autumn turns to winter in the grounds of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine … the planned venue for this week’s meeting of USPG trustees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Meetings of trustees or boards are the same everywhere.

They include budgets and spreadsheets, evaluations and re-evaluation, forward planning, business plans, organisation and structures, vision and strategy, position papers …

There are people who like this sort of meeting, but others find them a turn-off and speak of ‘bored meetings.’

But it is never so at meetings of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

For these two days (18-19 November 2020), I have been shut away from the rest of the world at a meeting of USPG trustees in London – albeit a ‘virtual meeting’ hosted by Zoom while I have been locked away in a room in the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick.

What makes USPG trustees’ meetings different, of course, is that, even in these pandemic lockdown days, our work is all about relationships within and across the Anglican Communion and about journeying with partner churches as critical but supportive friends.

We prayed together, we listened together to challenging Gospel passages, we laughed together, and we shared hopes together.

Without breaking any confidences on my part, we heard news about progress on the Communion Wide Advisory Group, bringing together work on all continents, about global relations, about work with Hope for the Future on climate change, about theological education, about next year’s Lent course, ‘For such a Time as This,’ and mission engagement. In particular, we heard from the Revd Davidson Solanki on the work of the Church in Bangladesh and the Church in the Middle East.

Davidson’s story, and his recent ordination, are among the many interesting features in the latest edition of Koinonia, the USPG magazine.

One member of the Senior Management Group shared these wise words from Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

We were reminded too that today in the calendar of the Church of England celebrates Saint Hilda of Whitby, who played a key role in the Synod of Whitby and in facilitating Church unity on these islands.

Looking forward to the future also means giving thanks for the past. And before our meeting closed this afternoon, we gave thanks in prayer for the lives of a number of people associated with the life of USPG and who died recently, including Janet Cousins, a former USPG missionary in Ethiopia, Ruth Capeling, a former USPG missionary in Zambia, Dr Sally Amos, who worked in a hospital in Zambia, and the Ven Frederick George, a former USPG missionary in Australia, Gambia and St Helena.

But I still miss the one-to-one, face-to-face contacts that are so important at meetings like this, although they never feature on the agenda.

It is over eight months since I was physically present at a meeting of USPG trustees in London last March. This week’s residential meeting ought to have taken place at the Royal Foundation Saint Katharine in Limehouse, but, like this year’s planned conference in Swanwick, Covid-19 put an end to those plans.

We are due to meet again as trustees on 10 March and 12 May 2021, Hopefully, the pandemic travel restrictions can be eased soon, and that I can attend meetings of trustees in London next year, and USPG’s annual conference, planned for 19 to 21 July 2021.

The Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick in Derbyshire … the planned venue for the USPG conference earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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