The 2019 USPG annual conference, held at High Leigh Conference Centre, Hoddesdon, 24 to 26 June was entitled ‘The Prophetic Voice of the Church’. It was lovely to see a significant increase the number of ordinands amongst the 155 attendees. The conference enabled us to reflect on what it means to be prophetic both as Church and as individuals today, locally and globally, responding to God’s call on our lives. Delegates were inspired by guest speakers from the Philippines, the Provinces of West Africa, Southern Africa, Tanzania, the West Indies, the Diocese in Europe, and Britain, as they shared their experiences, and challenged us in our ministries.
Pre conference volunteers meeting – From 2pm on the Monday of conference, there was an engaging session for all volunteers of USPG. This included Diocesan Representatives, Bishop’s Nominees, Speakers, Event Volunteers and ‘Journey With Us’ returnees. 60 volunteers reflected on the work of Henri Nouwen, ‘A Spirituality of Fundraising’. Fundraising is the precisely the opposite of begging… rather, we are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you – your energy, your prayers, and your money – in this work to which God has called us.” – Nouwen. USPG volunteers were challenged to work together to raise awareness, engagement in mission and funds for USPG.
Welcome – The USPG conference opened with a welcome from John Neilson, USPG Chair of Trustees. We marked the feast day of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist in our opening worship, which was led by the Archdeacon of Worcester, the Venerable Robert Jones.
Session 1: Introduction & review –The Revd Duncan Dormor, USPG General Secretary, challenged delegates with, “What does it really mean to be the Body of Christ?” in the context of a deeper meaning of the Greek concept of philoxenia; going beyond a simple concept of hospitality, to delight and openness to encounter in Christ. He shared highlights and achievements of USPG’s past year including partnership with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in the face of human rights abuses, a conference of the Council of Churches of East Asia in Korea, promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the USPG triennial international consultation in Barbados, and he looked ahead to the Lambeth 2020 Conference.
Session 2: The Prophetic Voice of the Church – from a West African perspective –The Rt Revd Dr Victor Atta-Baffoe. Bishop Victor spoke on the voice of witness, the voice of ministry and service, and the voice of leadership. He highlighted the potential damage of inherited financial structures which were reliant on grants from the global north, as once funding was cut, the programme crumbled. He emphasised the need for local financial stability: the move from funding a hand to mouth existence to building sustainability; the need for true partnership on an equal footing to move forward together.
The second day of the conference started with morning Eucharist led by The Very Revd Dr Gloria Mapangdol, Dean and President of St Andrew’s Seminary, Manila, Philippines.
Bible Study – The Very Revd Dr Gloria Mapangdol also led a Bible study on the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-5), focusing on Mary’s prophetic voice. She challenged us: Do we have the right image of Mary? Is the Mary who is ‘meek and mild’ the same Mary who challenged authority? Mary is more than a womb! She sings out her prophecy and gives a voice to the voiceless. Dean Gloria asked how can we become the prophetic voices of our communities. Are we willing to take risks to give voice and hope to those who do not have them? How can we in the Church strengthen or recover our prophetic ministry in today’s world?
Session 3: The Prophetic Voice of the Church – from an East African perspective – The Rt Revd Dr Dickson Chilongani, Bishop of Central Tanganyika, Tanzania, continued the exploration of building for a sustainable future. The old model of external aid which forced Africans to live hand to mouth is not helpful; instead we need to share our resources in partnership. Dr Dickson emphasised that Africans do not need external support; they have everything they need to be self-sustaining. The Church is growing through investing in ‘ordinary Christians’, not just clergy. The Church’s work is far-reaching including supporting the orphans of HIV and AIDS, and ecological conservation. Congregations in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika are dominated by woman and work is developing to encourage more men to participate. Dr Dickson concluded, “The Church in Africa may be the Church of the Poor, but the Church in the West has much to learn from us.”
Session 4: Migration Panel – the Revd Dr Evie Vernon O’Brien, USPG Theological Advisor, led a panel discussion on migration. The panel included The Revd Canon St Obed Arist Kojo Baiden, Anglican Diocese of The Gambia, who is a participant in USPG’s Exchanging Places programme; The Revd Dennis Obidiegwu, Chaplain of St Andrew’s Church, Morocco, also part of USPG’s Exchanging Places programme; and The Revd Kirrilee Reid, Chaplain and Refugee Officer, Pas de Calais, a post funded between the Diocese of Canterbury, Diocese in Europe and USPG.
Dr Evie read two bible passages “My father was a wandering Aramean”, Deuteronomy 26: 5-7 and “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother” Matthew 2: 13-15, exploring context and language particularly surrounding ‘migrants’, ‘refugees’ and those ‘in exile’? We explored some of the reasons of current migration, such as loss of confidence in authorities, corruption, hunger, the quest for security and leaving seemingly hopeless situations. The dangers of attempted migration are high. As Father Dennis reminded, “One life that is lost the whole world cannot replace”. A vigorous debate ensued.
Session 5: Journey with us – Habib Nader, USPG Global Relations Programme Manager, provided information about the ‘Journey With Us’ programme. USPG supports placements with many of our global partner churches. The programme has greatly helped participants to grow spiritually, develop an understanding of cultures and tolerance of others and has fostered deep and lasting relationships. The Rt Revd Calvert Leopold Friday, Bishop of the Windward Islands, and the Rt Revd Dr Dickson Chilongani, Bishop of Central Tanganyika shared their stories of successfully hosting volunteers, and the positive impact this has had on the local church.
Session 6: Elective workshops
Participants chose to participate in two of the following workshops:
- Workshop A: Stories from USPG Partner Churches in Asia engaged in local mission
With Davidson Solanki, USPG Global Relations, Programme Manager
- Workshop B: Going back, going forward, what is home?
With the migration panel.
- Workshop C: Stories from USPG Partner Churches in Africa engaged in local mission
With Fran Mate, USPG Global Relations, Programme Manager
- Workshop D: The UK voice on prophecy
With The Revd Duncan Dormor and The Revd Dr Evie Vernon O’Brien
- Workshop E: USPG Journey With Us – Snippets of stories from returnees from Tanzania, St Vincent, Zambia, India and more
With Habib Nader, USPG Global Relations, Programme Manager.
Council meeting – The session after dinner was devoted to the formal meeting of the Council, for which full minutes are prepared and circulated to Council members.
Bible Study – The Very Revd Dr Gloria Mapangdol led the Bible study on Wednesday morning on Amos 4: 1-3, the Cows of Bashan. The prophet Amos sets the scene describing Israel’s neighbours and their activities, before pointing his arrows at Israel itself. Bashan was known for its fertile land, great oaks, and its livestock. But the poor were oppressed there, the rich were the oppressors. So, who are the cows of Bashan? Dean Gloria gave some possible answers: Are they cult worshippers of the mighty bull of Samaria? Are they the greedy and the wealthy and pampered women? Perhaps they are all who exploit the poor, both men and women? She presented this passage a warning to all who would exploit the poor, even today.
Session 8: Partnership – Speaking Truth to Power – Cathrine Fungai Ngangira from Zimbabwe, now an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, Durham, gave a moving and powerful address. Cathrine reflected on the fact that the ‘average’ Anglican is a young, black, woman from sub-Saharan Africa in her 30’s or younger: a description of herself! But where is the prophetic voice of young people in the Church today? Do we, the Church, really listen to the young people? Do we mentor? In Zimbabwe there is a youth parliament working alongside the parliament. Can those young people speak the truth, or will they just mirror the government? Cathrine challenged us to fill all the empty seats at next year’s conference with a young person.
Session 9: USPG and Lambeth Conference 2020 – The Revd Canon Richard Bartlett, USPG Director of Mission Engagement talked us through plans for the coming year including the hospitality initiative ahead of the Lambeth Conference 2020. USPG is offering to host up to 10 per cent of the Bishops and their spouses from around the communion who will be coming to Britain for the Lambeth Conference next year. USPG volunteers and supporters are encouraged to offer to host Bishops and spouses and then bring them to the USPG Conference from 20 – 22 July 2020; after which the visitors will go directly to Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference. USPG will carefully dovetail this offering with that of Dioceses across England, Wales and Scotland.
Closing Eucharist and offering – The president was the Rt Revd Calvert Leopold Friday, Bishop of the Diocese of the Windward Islands, Church of the Province of the West Indies. The preacher was Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, Bishop of Swaziland, Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support for USPG and for our global partners.