25 July 2022

‘Living Stones, Living Hope’
… USPG conference
begins in High Leigh

The High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire … the venue for the USPG conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

I am in High Leigh this week for this year’s conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), with the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

The USPG conference in 2020 was planned for the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire. But, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference was a ‘virtual’ event that year and again last year. This is the first time the conference has been a residential event since 2019, the last time I was at the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire.

In the past, I have taken part in USPG conferences in High Leigh in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and in Swanwick in 2008, 2010 and 2016, and online in 2020 and 2021.

This year, the planned rail strike on Wednesday threatens to curtail or limit some of the programme’s plans. Nevertheless, this year’s conference aims to create space for the USPG family to gather again, to celebrate and to be inspired by the mission activities of partner churches around the Anglican Communion and to hear about USPG’s unique contribution to the world church.

People from across the world church are in High Leigh to discuss the defining issues of our time, including:

• the climate crisis
• legacies of slavery
• youth participation in the church
• gender injustice
• the future of theological education

The conference is taking place immediately ahead of the Lambeth Conference, which opens tomorrow (26 July) and continues until 8 August, the first time it has met since 2008. Additionally, the World Council of Churches’ Assembly takes place at the end of August.

In his editorial in Koinonia, USPG’s magazine, the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor, General Secretary of USPG, points out that these events ‘offer opportunities for churches across the Anglican Communion and further afield to connect with each other and reflect on the challenges of the past few years.’

He emphasises how it is ‘important for us as a USPG family to connect and reflect. After a couple of years with very few in-person events, it will be wonderful to meet with some of you again for the USPG conference …’

The theme of ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ comes from I Peter, the epistle at the heart of this year’s Lambeth Conference. In his welcome to this week’s conference, Duncan Dormor says the ‘metaphor of the Christian community as living stones that make up the household of God reminds us not only that we are individuals within a wider community but also that we are each connected to Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of our faith.’

He continues: ‘Churches, as living stones, are most truly in Christ when they offer living hope. When they commit themselves to justice, peace-making and reconciliation. One example of this is the hope offered by Anglican provinces across Africa in raising awareness of climate change. Another is the Anglican Communion’s response to the crisis in Ukraine. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s service to indigenous communities in the Philippines is yet another example of the living hope brought by our partners. These initiatives will all be discussed in our conference sessions.’

He adds, ‘These days together offer us the opportunity to reflect on what it means for us to offer living hope, both as churches and as individuals.’

The speakers at this year’s conference are from across the world church. Clifton Need from Grenada, who spoke this afternoon, is a member of the Diocese of the Windward Islands in the Church in the Province of the West Indies. He is the Anglican Alliance’s Caribbean Facilitator, the Anglican Consultative Council’s Lay Member from the CPWI, and a convener of the Anglican Communion Youth Network.

Basetsana Makena, who is speaking later this evening, is from the Diocese of Mpumalanga in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She is a student at the University of South Africa and the President of the Anglican Students’ Federation of Southern Africa. Basetsana is a feminist interested in matters of leadership and governance, and she hopes to bring about meaningful change in society. It is a reflection of the current mean-minded attitudes in Britain that she was refused a visa, but she is joining us through a web link.

The Revd Suchitra Behera, who is speaking tomorrow morning, is a Freelance Development Consultant in the Church of Bangladesh, and she works voluntarily alongside her husband, Bishop Shourabh Pholia, in Barishal. She is passionate about women’s rights and is an advocate of women’s ordination. Suchitra has been a Country Representative for Tearfund in Bangladesh.

The Most Revd Rhee Timbang is joining the conference for the launch tomorrow afternoon of a new research report looking at human rights abuses in the Philippinesis. He is Obispo Maximo (or Primate) of the Philippine Independent Church since 2017 and is the Spiritual Head, Chief Pastor and Chief Executive Officer of the Church. He has chaired a number of fellowships, formations and movements that advocate for human rights, social justice and peace. They include the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Pilgrims for Peace, One Voice and the Ecumenical Bishops Forum. .

The Venerable Dr Leslie Nathaniel has been the Archdeacon of the East and Germany with Northern Europe since 2019. His church roots are in the Church of South India (CSI), and he has been an officer for ecumenical affairs for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg and Interchange Adviser for people and resources with the Church Mission Society (CMS). He has worked with Archbishop Rowan Williams and Archbishop Justin Welby as International Ecumenical Secretary and European Secretary.

Our daily Bible studies each day are being led by the Right Revd K Reuben Mark, Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India. He has been the Bishop of Karimnagar, a predominantly rural, Dalit and tribal diocese in the South Indian state of Telangana, since 2015. Before that, he was a Professor in Homiletics (1995-2015) in the Andhra Christian Theological College, based in Hyderabad. He trained for the ministry in the United Theological College, Bangalore, where he also completed his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Homiletics. He is president of the governing council of the United Theological College.

Each evening, there is entertainment from the Igorot dancers.

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