09 July 2024

A week of breaking
down the barriers and
opening the gates
with USPG at High Leigh

Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini of Eswatini leading the Bible study at the USPG conference in High Leigh today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on image for full-screen viewing)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) got under this morning in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and continues until Thursday.

This week’s conference theme is ‘United Beyond Borders’.

The conference opened this morning with a welcome from the General Secretary of USPG, the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor, and with worship.

Duncan spoke of his recent visit to Calais to see the work of a joint refugee action project between the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG. The project seeks to ensure that refugees receive the basic support that they need, and to provide hospitality, support and care.

This morning’s Bible study was led by Bishop Dalcy Badeli Dlamini, Bishop of Eswatini in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, who chose as her theme: ‘Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise’ (Isaiah 60: 18).

She asked us what forms of violence do people in our countries or contexts today; what does the phrase ‘violence shall no more be heard in your land’ mean to us and in our contexts today; how can we apply the concepts of ‘walls called Salvation, and your gates called Praise’ to unified and secure community in our contexts; and what practical steps can we take to assure our communities and church spaces reflect the salvation and praise spoken of by Isaiah?

Bishop Dalcy is the second woman bishop in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and the fourth woman bishop in Southern Africa. She succeeded Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, who died of Covid-related causes early in 2020.

After an early career as a primary school teacher, Dr Dlamini was ordained in the Diocese of Swaziland in 2006, and her experiences include parochial ministry and school and university chaplaincy. She has PhD in Practical Theology from the University of Pretoria.

She moved to the Diocese of St Mark in 2020, and was Diocesan Dean of Studies and Rector and Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Polokwane. She has been involved in the international Anglican/Lutheran Commission and the Steering Group of the International Anglican Women’s Network.

Bishop Dalcy is leading the Bible studies throughout this week, bringing fresh perspectives on leadership, faith and community.

This afternoon’s keynote speaker was Bishop Anderson Jeremiah, the new Bishop of Edmonton and a suffragan bishop of the Diocese of London. He spoke of geographical border-making and how borders have been used to define, exclude and control and as a ‘Euro-centric’ creation.

He compared this with the symbolic borders defining identity and belonging, the difference between the sacred and the profane, the secular and the religious, and defining who belongs within religious communities, differentiating between the ‘pure’ and the ‘impure’.

Borders are geographical, but they can also be intellectual, political, ideological, doctrinal and theological, he pointed out.

He also discussed the rise of far-right populism across Europe and the way far-right politicians use borders to garner support among people who feel alienated by changes in society.

He contrasted these ideas with the preaching of the Kingdom of God by Jesus found in Saint John’s Gospel, redrawing and crossing the borders created by both the Roman Empire and the religious political and cultural authorities of his day.

He also quoted: ‘So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God’ (Ephesians 2: 19-22, NRSV).

He invited us to compare this with the emphasis in the Message version: ‘That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all –irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.’

He challenged us to face up to the borders and new boundaries we construct in our communities, and to reorient ourselves in the Church. He called us to critical pilgrimage and prophetic rebellion, decentring ourselves and constantly questioning authorities, offering radical theological alternatives rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Bishop Anderson Jeremiah was born in Tamil Nadu in India in 1975 and studied at the University of Madras, the University of Edinburgh and the United Theological College, Bangalore. He has served in hospital and university chaplaincy in India and in parish ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Until recently, he was the canon theologian in the Diocese of Blackburn and Associate Dean (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and People) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Lancaster University. He was consecrated bishop by Archbishop Justin Welby in Canterbury in April and was installed as the Bishop of Edmonton in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, in May. He is married to the Revd Dr Rebecca Aechtner and they are the parents of two daughters.

His commitment to justice and peace, rooted in his experience as a Dalit Christian, has set a powerful tone for the conference.

Later this afternoon there was a choice between workshops.

‘Beyond Borders’ was a workshop on Gender Justice and female leadership in the Anglican Church. This workshop was led by USPG Senior Regional Managers Fran Mate and the Revd Davidson Solanki and explored the opportunities, strengths, and challenges for female leadership in the Anglican Church.

‘The Past in the Present’ was a workshop on Mission, Empire and Racial Justice. This workshop was facilitated by Dr Jo Sadgrove, the Revd Dr Evie Vernon and the Revd Garfield Campbell, and explored the legacies of a history marked by slavery and racism and the possibilities in the present.

‘Seeing Differently’ was an interactive workshop using a real-life case study, recognising and revealing attitudes leading to exclusion of others in plain sight. There were examples of Gypsy Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches.

This choice of workshops is being offered at the conference again tomorrow.

The other speakers this week include the Very Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral, and Bradon Muilenburg, the Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France. Brandon works along border lines and his day-to-day experience of ministry in Calais is expected to bring many of this week’s discussions to life.

A walk in the countryside near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire before today’s rainstorms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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