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At last, an archbishop prepared to stand up for Christmas

Friday 22 December 2006

Our countryside and rural affairs commentator John Sheard, who may not go to church all that often but who is still proud to call himself a Christian, sends a fervent Yuletide thank you the Archbishop of York, a man prepared to stand up and be counted for his faith

SOME 45 years ago, when I was a young freelance journalist trying to make a name for myself in York, I had a particularly pleasant assignment at this time of the year. I would drive alongside the River Ouse to Bishopthorpe Palace to carefully write down the Archbishop of York's Christmas message.

john sentamu
Happy Christmas Dr John Sentamu
Photo: Martin Sheppard

The archbishop, to give him his full title, was His Grace, the Right Reverend Dr Donald Coggan, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Church, and a very nice man indeed.

After our little bit of work was complete, he and his charming wife would take us out into the rambling palace grounds and cut the photographer and I sprigs of holly and - I liked this - pagan mistletoe as a little present, then wave us goodbye with hearty wishes of Merry Christmas.

As my career progressed, I found myself in Ulster spending four years reporting on Christians killing Christians, a thought which must have horrified the gentle and diffident Dr Coggan. For a while, I became strongly anti-religious - until I realised that it was not Christians who were to blame for that carnage but evil politicians who perverted religion in their own lust for power.

Fast forward another 20 years, soon after my wife and I had settled in the Yorkshire Dales, when an elderly friend of ours died. He had served with some distinction in the Royal Marines during World War 11 and we learned to our puzzlement that the funeral service was to be held, not in the parish church, but in the graveyard.

It was a stunningly beautiful affair. His green beret and long row of medals were laid on the Union Flag-draped coffin. There were no hymns, just a lone bugler sounding the Last Post as he was lowered into the grave. It was only later that we learned from his angry family why the ceremony had been held outdoors.

It was because the vicar had refused to allow the singing of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers in the church because it was an anthem offensive to other religions!

As I said, that was 20 years ago and the phrase Political correctness had not even been invented as far as I can remember. Yet, as I tried to swallow my anger in the shadow of Ingleborough that day, I realised that something fundamentally wrong was beginning to infect the church into which I was baptised.

Some members of the clergy, it appeared, were ashamed of the traditions of the Church of England, which has done a great deal less harm than many other faiths and a great deal of good. Those young priests are today's bishops and the church is riddled with schism over homosexual priests, women bishops and the banning of great old hymns like Onward Christian soldiers.

By pandering to political, as opposed to liturgical, fashion, they have offended tens of thousands of traditional C of E members - and the result is that there are now more regular Roman Catholic churchgoers than Protestants in a country which spilled blood for three centuries in order to be independent of Rome.

Anglicism has at long last got a loud, fierce and proud voice. A very Merry Christmas to you, Your Grace

Then, earlier this year, the church appointed a black Archbishop of York. I admit that, at the time, I was appalled: not because of any racist feelings but because I feared that this might be yet another PC appointment by senior church figures saying behind closed doors: Look, we have women priests, we have gay priests, we have black bishops. Isn't it time we had a quota for black archbishops?

Once again, I feared the dear old C of E had shot itself in the foot.

Now, at Christmas, I gladly confess that I was totally and utterly wrong. Dr John Sentamu is no wishy, washy, hand-wringing figure like his boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, known even by his junior clergy as "the Druid." Sentamu is an old fashioned, tub-thumping, straight-talking guy and a hurricane of fresh air blowing through the 500-year-old cloisters of the Anglican Church.

Time and time again, he has attacked politicians and meddling bureaucrats who have banned pictures of the baby Jesus, Christmas trees, nativity plays, even the festival of Christmas itself in Birmingham, where left wingers on the city council have renamed it Winterval.

And - as a former judge in Uganda who had to flee rather than be executed by the late Idi Amin - he understands the way that dictators have often used religion to impose appalling political solutions on minorities, just as Islamic Northern Arabs in Darfur are today slaughtering, raping and maiming thousands of Christian natives in the south.

Dr Sentamu has become the most outspoken critic of multi-culturism in Britain, that lazy, PC sentiment that has allowed, even encouraged, the spread of ghettos in many towns and cities in Britain, ghettos which have become a breeding ground for native-born terrorism and an ever-present danger of violent backlash from poor whites.

Even better, he has made Christianity a pulsing, vibrant, self confident religion again, if only within the towering heights of York Minister, where his services will be packed like sardines over the next few days. Anglicism has at long last got a loud, fierce and proud voice. A very Merry Christmas to you, Your Grace.

Your views:

  • I give thanks to God for Archbishop John Sentamu every day in my prayers

    Sandra Kjellgren - Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

  • Thank you for your article about the Archbishop of York. I am a Baptist rather than an Anglican; however, if I may say so, I have been nothing but impressed by the Archbishop who seems to be very lively and 'in touch' and has apparently made people sit up and take notice of his rather unconventional way of being Archbishop (which is a good thing!).

    While maintaining a necessary dignity of kinds, he clearly has a living and vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is making a brilliant impact using the many opportunities he has to communicate with people of all kinds. I heard him 'do' a Thought for the Day on Radio 4 a little while ago and he was absolutely excellent. What a good man!


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