During a two hour service this week, Ugandan born Dr John Sentamu was installed as the new Archbishop of York.
Just a week ago, Dr Sentamu won widespread popular support with his statement that English people should take greater pride in their culture. It was a culture he had learned in Uganda, he said, a culture he welcomed and which has produced much good in the world.
Part of the reason for this, he noted, was that English culture is rooted in Christianity. The Church of England still has a major role to play in shaping the future of the culture. The Church should be ‘like a midwife, bringing forth possibilities of what is authentically very good in the English mind.’
I’m not an Anglican and it needs to be said that there are many sections of the wider church in Britain which are filled with passionate Christians. They are ready to engage challenge the status quo and point the way to something better.
The fact remains, though, that the Church of England is the faith body closest to the political and social core of English history. It is, for most English people, the ‘official’ church, the one of which many will claim to be members whenever a census form comes around, even if they haven’t been to church for years.
There are three things about Dr John’s comments which I find very refreshing.
The first is his penchant for flying in the face of the vacuous political correctness which has crippled Christian witness in the established Church in Britain.
Sentamu has challenged the pop-historical notion that the results of Britain’s imperial rule were all negative; that missionary zeal, among other things, led only to the shattering of cultures and treading down of humanity.
He has pointed out that while Empire was responsible for some terrible things, it also provided education and the hope of a better life for people in often war torn nations like Uganda.
I think he gets a bit of a kick out of rustling feathers on that score. More power to him.
Propagandists have for too long been tried to eradicate the positive influence of missionaries who often laid down their lives not only for their faith but for the betterment of those they sought to serve.
Dr John also gently chided the people of his Church, saying that members of the C of E had become ‘consumers of religion’ instead of real disciples of Christ.
During his inauguration, he issued a challenge: ‘The Church of England must once again be a beacon by which the people can orient themselves in an unknown ocean by offering them the good news of God in Christ in a practical and relevant way.’
‘Having shed an empire and lost a missionary zeal, has this great nation, and mother of parliamentary democracy, also lost a noble vision for the future? We are getting richer and richer as a nation, but less and less happy.’
‘The Church must rediscover her self-confidence and self-esteem that united and energised the English people whose many centuries ago when the disparate fighting groups embraced the Gospel.’
This is a tone the Queen herself sounded during her opening speech to the Church of England Synod last week.
Finally, I like this churchman for the simplicity of his faith.
He can’t be called a simple man in any pejorative sense. No man – certainly no outsider – could have risen to such high office in an institution as traditional as the C of E unless he was a man of intellect and ability.
Yet, for all the trappings of his office, the Archbishop seems intent on keeping things as simple as possible. During his instalment, lunch took the form of sandwiches, provided by Marks and Spencer.
The prophetic heart of this man of God can perhaps best be summed up in question from his own lips:
‘Why have we in England turned this glorious Gospel of life in the Spirit into a cumbersome organisation that repels, and whose people are dull and complacent?’
‘The gospel I got in my country was so good,’ he said. ‘I am simply telling the English, it is my job now, to simply remind you of what you taught me.’
(The Archbishop’s comments were reported in The Times, Nov 22 and Dec 1, 2005.)