27 July 2022

Living with a World of Difference
at the USPG conference this week

Resources to take home from this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I came away from this week’s USPG conference in High Leigh this week with a variety of reading material. ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ was the theme of this week’s conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

Living with a World of Difference is a five-session study course celebrating diversity within the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is the world’s third largest Christian community, a worldwide family of tens of millions of Christians, from more than 165 countries around the globe.

This study course introduces the enormous breadth of cultural diversity within the Anglican Communion. Anglicans and Episcopalians live in modern cities and rural heartlands, and speak hundreds of languages, with a wealth of difference and diversity.

Living Stones, Living Hope is a new course for 2022, taking its title from I Peter 2, the text of the Bible study for the Lambeth Conference which opened today. This study was produced by USPG as a resource for both USPG and the bishops taking part in the Lambeth Conference.

The metaphor of the Christian community in I Peter 2 as living stones is rich and evocative. We, the Church, are the living stones, and we are called to bring living hope in our diverse situations, though faith in Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith. In each context this is lived out differently and is underpinned by a range of theologies. Yet our bedrock in Christ remains our constant.

Living Stones, Living Hope explores this from the perspective of five partner churches around the world, inviting us to reflect on our own experience of being ‘living stones’ and bringing ‘living hope’ to our own situations, in the light of the experiences of others.

I was one of the five global theologians invited to contribute to this study, and drew on my experiences of Church co-operation in Rathkeale in the Diocese of Limerick, where I was the priest-in-charge until the end of March.

I wrote about the experience of the Church of Ireland in the study for Week 4, looking at the impact of Brexit on a cross-border church, of the tensions that remain after the peace process, and other social and political changes in Ireland.

I also wrote about the work of the three main churches in West Limerick, offering the work of the churches in Rathkeale as ‘one small example of applying our understanding’ of ‘the stone that the builders rejected.’ The project in Rathkeale seeks ‘to create understanding and a shared space for Travellers, who are a large ethnic minority in the area, and the people of Rathkeale, who fear losing their social, economic and cultural place in the town.’

I wrote, ‘As the Church takes stock once again, it needs to be less worried about how it is perceived or whether it is losing credibility, and more willing to engage with these questions, even when this is costly.’

I also contributed to a video produced in Askeaton for this course.

The other contributors to ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ are from Brazil, India, Korea and Zambia.

The latest edition of USPG’s magazine Koinonia (Issue 9 6/2022) includes a feature a new confidence in the Church of Bangladesh, updates on the Ukraine appeal, an introduction to new directors of USPG, and news about this week’s Lambeth Conference.

Dr Jo Sadgrove, Research and Learning Advisor with USPG, is the author of Resourcing the crisis: Pastoral care across space and time. This colourfully-illustrated document is the result of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and USPG.

The Pastoral Care project was designed to examine the intersections between pastoral care, cross-cultural understandings of disease and cure, models of public health engagement and the role of churches and church leaders in providing care for communities around the world. These intersections and the questions they raise are explored in a some of USPG’s historical records and in relation to its contemporary ministry to churches around the Anglican Communion.

As an Anglican mission agency founded in 1701, USPG occupies a rather strange position – facing both the United Kingdom and Ireland on one hand and the churches of the Anglican Communion, yet ‘belonging’ to neither. The quest for identity and role for an organisation like UPSG in a post-colonial context has been an ongoing challenge.

This project helped USPG staff to understand how some of the key questions that continue to preoccupy USPG as an organisation are sustained across time. These include: Who is the object of pastoral care? How do we provide remote care? How do crises foster innovations in care? How do local care needs define what ministry is in any place?

Resources on display at the USPG conference in High Leigh this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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