Monday, 8 June 2020

Dr. John Sentamu, Vision and Change

In the middle of a pandemic, during lockdown; and over a weekend of protests, social disturbance and violence, we can be forgiven perhaps if the retirement of Dr. John Sentamu completely passed us by. And yet the timing of his retirement is striking in several ways. His voice is perhaps needed now more than ever - or have his vision and mission already initiated the change that we so desperately need?

"The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, accompanied by his wife, the Revd Margaret Sentamu, laid down his crozier of office on the high altar of York Minster on Sunday 7 June. The Dean of York, the Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Frost and Head Verger Alex Carberry were witnesses to this final act as Archbishop. (Music - Recorded previously by York Minster Choristers Psalm 150)"

The following biography is an abridged version of the information on Wikipedia, and other information published this weekend. I knew little and have learned much! There is also much on the Archbishopric of York website.

Dr. John Sentamu
Born in Uganda in 1949, Dr. Sentamu was the sixth of thirteen children. He obtained a Bachelor of Laws at Makerere University, Kampala, and practised as an advocate of the High Court of Uganda.

He incurred the wrath of the dictator Idi Amin, considered one of the cruelest despots in world history. Sentamu was detained for 90 days after refusing to overlook the crimes of one of Amin's family; he fled his home country to arrive as an immigrant in the United Kingdom in 1974.

Sentamu studied theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge and trained for the priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, being ordained a priest in 1979. He worked as assistant chaplain at Selwyn College, as chaplain at a remand centre and as curate and vicar in a series of parish appointments. Sentamu was consecrated a bishop on 25 September 1996, by George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, at St Paul's Cathedral.

During this time that he served as advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Judicial Enquiry, in 2002 he chaired the Damilola Taylor review - in both cases his personal experience of institutional racism proved invaluable. That same year he was appointed Bishop of Birmingham where his ministry, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was praised by "Christians of all backgrounds".

Sentamu has spoken on issues including young people, the family, slavery, and injustice and conflict abroad. He seemed to have a natural talent for highlighting social ills in an insightful yet tactful way which won supporters. Above all his career has been a constant campaign against injustice.

Stephen Cottrell is the Archbishop of York designate.

Vision and Change - are we succeeding?
"It is imperative that the Church regains her vision and confidence in mission, developing ways that will enable the Church of England to reconnect imaginatively with England." 2005
Sentamu's message above from his inauguration sermon has proved particularly prophetic. Many in the Church have certainly demonstrated both imagination and vision in maintaining connections during the lockdown, the confidence is growing! The challenges presented in a world of social distancing and restrictions have required a radical rethink of worship, discipleship and mission, perhaps not something that comes easy to a centuries old institution! And yet according to Tear fund faith is of great importance to a significant proportion of the country:-
  • Nearly half of adults in the UK (44%) say they pray 
  • A quarter (24%) of UK adults say they have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown 
  • Over half of those who pray (56%) agree that prayer changes the world
Institutional change is often desirable but embarking on anything new is fraught with difficulties. Perhaps in some small way the pandemic has offered people of faith the opportunity to connect in new ways, forcing action and diversification. I can't wait to be back in our church singing services with the choir once again, but I do hope we retain some of the new links we have made. 

Below are two excellent examples of this new working together, sharing digitally and making new connections. The first is "The Ipswich Blessing", over forty churches across the town came together to sing this blessing. Second, Lightwave's "Catching the Fire" service for Pentecost, led by Bishop Mike of Durham and Bishop Martin of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich with cathedral musicians and the Cantus Firmus Trust.

Lastly, on the subject of making new connections, I urge you to follow Bishops Martin and Mike on Facebook. Their discussions are both refreshingly different and hugely enlightening. I'm really enjoying them.  

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