Years of traditional mission activity have helped us to realise that there is no ‘us and them’ only an ‘us’.
This was the message of the Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, who preached at a special service to launch the renaming of the 311-year-old mission agency USPG – now known as Us.
He was speaking at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, on Tuesday 20 November.
Mr Wells said: ‘In the good old days, we used to think being a missionary was about recognising a difference between us and them: “us”, who had resources, skills, and the gospel, and “them”, who had hunger and not much else.’
But, over the years, this picture has changed, he said. So much so that we came to realise that ‘there is no longer a them, there is only an us’.
And the final irony, he said, was that ‘if we’d never accepted the call to be a missionary, we’d probably never have found all that out’.
USPG (United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) has become Us after research showed that the name USPG – based on a name coined in 1701 – no longer connected with people in the twenty-first century.
The Revd Canon Chris Chivers, Us Chair of Trustees, said: 'The name Us is a reminder that God's welcome is for all of us – Jesus' promise of a full life is for every person, in every community. Our work is helping to make this happen around the world.'
Acknowledging that the Us launch took place on the day General Synod voted against women bishops, Us Chief Executive Janette O’Neill said: ‘We were concerned that our launch event would be over-shadowed by the sadness of many at the outcome of the vote. But, far from it, my sense was that the launch of Us – with our emphasis on inclusion – was a sign of hope for the future of the Church of England.’
She said: ‘USPG changing its name to “Us” is a statement that everyone is included. In fact, the biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for a video looking at our history. The video explained how we were the first organisation to appoint a single woman as a missionary, which put us ahead of our time, this being 72 years before women got the vote in the UK. People cheered at this. It shows that an Anglican organisation is capable of standing up for equal rights.’
Speaking at the launch, Archbishop Rowan Williams praised the new name ‘Us’ as being a ‘wonderfully ambiguous and non-specific title’ which is suited to a world in which boundaries constantly shift because it is ‘very difficult to tell where “us” stops and “them” starts’.
Visit the new Us website at www.weareUs.org.uk