Tuesday, August 18, 2009

USPG revisited

After celebrating another lunchtime Mass for Father Roy Doxsey at St Germans yesterday, I took a coach up to London, and stopped overnight with my sister, prior to visiting USPG's headquarters in Dover Street, now on the top floor of the London School of Accountancy's building opposite Borough tube station. The objective of the visit was to finalise arrangements regarding the photo exhibition, chatting with the photo librarian, protographer Leah Gordon, who happened to be in at the time, and my old friend Elfed Hughes, now a senior staff member, whose enthusiasm for the photos sparked off my interest, during a chance meeting outside a restaurant opposite St John's one Sunday evening a few months ago.

This is the third headquarters building used by USPG which I have known in thirty years. During that time, it has downsized considerably. Now there are only three members of staff remaining who were there when I worked for the Society - all my age. The focussed commitment to partnership in mission exercised by USPG is as strong and constructive as ever, crossing over the divisions arising from failure to reach concensus between conservative Anglicans and others.

Although it has less resources to share than in previous generations, due to the decline in its revenue, and the massacre of its investments, it still manages a weighty contribution which is disproportionate to its size. Nowadays there's a huge amount of competition for charitable gifts from church people, and the charity 'product' skilfully marketed to attract sympathetic donations so that it's possible to feel bad very easily when overwhelmed with appeals.

To my mind USPG's USP (unique selling point) is that it has the wisdom and experience of an organisation that for 300 years has served Anglicanism and its mission, starting before it became a world wide communion of churches. It has the capacity and credibility to bridge the gulf driven into the church by the disagreements of others. It will always be a moral force to drive reconciliation, to keep people talking to each other about practical and spiritual matters. In a way, its a bit like the diplomatic service and the Foreign Office, always there, necessary, not overly in your face. And yet it's not an official branch of church governance (that would be a kiss of death), but a free and voluntary enterprise, deserving to be better valued and supported by all sides of the church.

I was pleased that London Transport was working well to enable me to get around, but didn't enjoy the huge, and often slow moving crowds. Now that I'm feeling somewhat fitter, I enjoy walking fast and energetically, which isn't much fun when the streets are busy. I was glad to get back on the coach for home, and enjoy a relaxed ride into the setting sun, amusing myself by taking a series of photos through the bus window of Berkshire and Wiltshire countryside, as the harvesting of summer crops nears its end, and the fields are littered with those surreal looking cylindrical bales of wrapped straw. Thirty three years ago I recall seeing those bales for the first time in Flanders fields, as we chugged south on a family holiday, all the way to Rome in a 602cc Citroen Dyane. We named the 'euro-dollops', for the benefit of the kids.

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