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Bishops criticise USPG cuts

16 June 2010

by Ed Beavan

A DECISION by the Anglican mission society the USPG to end its funding to Latin America and the Caribbean has been criticised by bishops in the region.

The cut is part of a restructuring to cover a projected £1.2-million deficit precipitated by the economic downturn. The USPG has partners in more than 50 countries.

The changes were discussed at the charity’s annual conference in Swan­wick last weekend, attended by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba.

The society plans to concentrate on projects in Africa and Asia, in particular capacity-building pro­grammes, theological education, church growth, and healthcare, its general secretary, the Rt Revd Michael Doe, said on Tuesday.

When the changes were first mooted in March, the Primate of Brazil, the Most Revd Mauricio Andrade, and ten other Brazilian bishops wrote to the society’s trustees to express “surprise and disappointment”.

They had not been consulted, they said, and it was “unjustifiable” to “completely eliminate an entire con­tinent from your sphere of mission”. This demonstrated a “lack of con­cern for Latin America and the Carib­­bean within the Anglican Com­munion”, and smacked of “colonial favouritism”. The cuts would force them to “abandon” projects. They called for period of transition.

The Bishop of Peru, the Rt Revd Bill Godfrey, described the decision to “cut off this whole part of the world as extraordinary and regret­table”. He said that he had “been on USPG’s books for 25 years”. While he acknowledged that the USPG had to balance its books, he said: “I find it hard to believe the only answer is to withdraw funding. There have always been good times and more difficult times financially, but we pass through them.”

He, too, spoke of a lack of con­sultation. “USPG say we’re not to be colonial, but their attitude is very colonial: they made the decision in London. There is some very strategic work being done here, and if USPG wants to go on being involved globally in the Anglican Commun­ion, Latin America can’t be left out.”

He called for a small pot of fund­ing of about £10,000 a year to “keep the relationship alive”.

Canon Ian Hutchinson Cervantes, Chaplain of St George’s, Madrid, and a former USPG missionary in Latin America and former regional desk officer, attended the conference last weekend. He said that if the cuts af­fected sending people out in mission, the charity would “lose part of its identity and vocation”.

He was concerned that at the con­ference “no proper explanation or clear rationale” had been given, other than a cost-saving exercise. The changes could isolate Churches in the region. “Although fairly modest in the number of Anglicans, Latin America is still very important, as, along with Africa, it is the heart and lungs of Christianity today. My con­cern is that USPG could be losing more than it gains through this exer­cise, and consequently the Church as well.”

Bishop Doe said that a total of 15 posts will be cut “across the board” in the UK, and the College of the As­cension, in Birmingham, would be sold. Apart from loans, the society was giving £25,000 a year to the region, to be tapered off in the next four years; but relationships with the region would continue.

Bishop Doe acknowledged that any change was “unsettling”, but all mission agencies were having to look at the ways they supported the global Church, and that the USPG was unusual in still having a substantial funding programme. The basic aim was to “maximise the money that goes to the world Church”.

Doffed: the Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, was asked by Lam­beth Palace not to wear her mitre when she visited Southwark Cath­edral last Sunday. As a consequence, she carried it under her arm. In her sermon, she spoke of the fear of strangers: “There’s something in our ancient genetic memory that ratchets up our state of arousal when we meet a stranger — it’s a survival mech­anism that has kept our species alive for millennia by being wary about strangers. But there’s also a piece of our make-up that we talk about in more theo­logical terms — the part that leaps to judgement about that person’s sins. It’s con­nected to knowing our own sinful­ness, and our tendency toward competition.” She urged the con­gregation to lose the “defensive veneer that wants to shut out other sinners”. In a letter to The Times, a group of 15 clerics in the Southwark diocese, mostly con­servative Evangelicals, criticised the invitation: “We seriously question the judgement of those who have not withdrawn their invitation to her after her recent consecration of Mary Glasspool,” a partnered lesbian. She also spoke at the Scot­tish Synod, where she talked of her Church’s “radical hospitality”. At the USPG annual meeting, she was upbraided by the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba: the support for same-sex partnerships had com­municated “a measure of uncaring at the con­sequent difficulties for us”

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