26 July 2022

USPG family celebrates and
is inspired by mission activities
in the Anglican Communion

A quiet moment on the terrace at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddeson, the venue for the USPG conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

This has been the second day of USPG’s annual conference, with the theme ‘Living Stones, Living Hope’ (26 July 2022).

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is taking place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, and opened yesterday afternoon.

The 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.

This is the first time since 2019 that the conference has been a residential event, and it has been good over these two days to meet old friends and new friends involved with USPG.

We began the day this morning with Morning Prayer in the Yew Tree Hall and a Bible Study led by Bishop Reuben Mark, Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India and Bishop of Karimnagar, a predominantly rural, Dalit and tribal diocese in the South Indian state of Telangana. He is a former Professor in Homiletics in the Andhra Christian Theological College in Hyderabad. Bishop Mark trained for the ministry in the United Theological College, Bangalore, and is mow president of the governing council of the college.

Later this morning, the Revd Davidson Solanki, Regional Manager, chaired a discussion of the work of USPG and USPG’s partners in Asia. The speakers included Bishop Eggoni Pushpa Lalitha of Nandyal in the Church of South India; Bishop Azad Marshall, the Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan and Bishop of Raiwind; and the Revd Rana Khan from the Diocese of Lahore in Pakistan, who was the international interfaith dialogues assistant to Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace before becoming the Rector of Crickhowell in Wales. We also heard about the work of the Church of North India among the Dalit communities.

The Revd Suchitra Behera spoke of the difficult challenges she faces in her work for gender equality in Bangladesh. I had breakfast this morning with Suchitra Behera and her husband, Bishop Shourabh Pholia, Deputy Moderator of Church of Bangladesh and Bishop of Barisal Diocese. She is from India and has been working in Bangladesh since 1998. She has a BD and an MA, and also studied at Roehampton University in London. She is passionate about women’s rights and an advocate of women’s ordination. She has worked in International Development and was a Country Representative for Tearfund UK in Bangladesh. She is a Freelance Development Consultant and works voluntarily alongside Bishop Shourabh Pholia in the Diocese of Barishal.

During a conversation between Rebecca Boardman, USPG Regional Manager for Oceania, East Asia and Europe, and Archdeacon Leslie Nathaniel, we were updated on the situation in Ukraine and the work supported by USPG.

The Diocese in Europe and USPG has an emergency appeal to get aid to people in desperate need because of the invasion of Ukraine. This is the biggest appeal USPG has had in many years. We heard how funds raised by the appeal are supporting Christian charities and churches involved in humanitarian work both in Ukraine and responding to the arrival of refugees in neighbouring countries. This includes providing food, medicine, shelter, care for children and people who are internally displaced in Ukraine. They are supplying care at the border and beyond, including meeting the needs of people from Africa and Asia as well as Ukrainians who are fleeing the war.

More than a million refugees have fled the war in Ukraine. They have left everything behind to escape conflict. Christian charities and churches need help now as they support these people in all aspects of their lives.

In the context of post-Brexit Britain, there was a certain irony in being reminded that the Diocese in Europe is the largest diocese in the Church of England.

There was a choice of three workshops this afternoon: Comprehensive Knowledge and Climate Justice: increasing the knowledge and amplifying the voices of those impacted by climate change; and Decolonising Mission: Legacies and education; Gender Empowerment in Bangladesh.

A new report on human rights in the Philippines, The Church Called and Sent to Follow the Path of Christ, was also launched this afternoon by the Most Revd Rhee Timbang, who has been Obispo Máximo (or Primate) of Iglesia Filipina Independiente since 2017. The Obispo Maximo is the Spiritual Head, Chief Pastor, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Church.

Archbishop Rhee was ordained priest in 1982, and consecrated bishop in 1996, becoming Bishop of the Diocese of Surigao. 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. He has been involved in several development programmes and ministries that promote and uphold human dignity, including the Abundant Life Programme supported by USPG.

The report to the meeting of the USPG Council noted that my second three-year term as a trustee came to an end last year (July 2021).

The conference continues this evening with Night Prayer and entertainment by the Igorot Dancers.

Sadly, many of the bishops attending the conference have to leave High Leigh this evening to attend the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, because the opening day has been brought forward. In addition, the planned rail strike tomorrow (Wednesday 27 July) threatens to curtail or limit some of the programme’s plans for the third day, and I like many others have to leave High Leigh this evening.

• To donate to the Ukraine emergency appeal, visit www.uspg.org.uk/ukraine

The White Swan on the High Street in Hoddesdon … rated by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘visually the most striking timber-framed inn in the district’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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