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Welby: 2014 was a tough year

02 January 2015


Stand-in: The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, gave the Christmas Day sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, after Archbishop Welby dropped out, having contracted pneumonia

Stand-in: The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, gave the Christmas Day sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, after Archbishop Welby dropped...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury cautioned against the temptation to "look inwards in despair", in his New Year's message yesterday, despite the daily "toll of bad news" in 2014.

He drew attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and north-east Nigeria, and the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan, before asserting: "We are not a country that turns our back on the suffering and the weak and the helpless."

His visits to Sierra Leone, where British aid "poured in", and his tour of all the provinces of the Anglican Communion in the past 18 months had shown him the impact of Britain on the world: "When we are at our best, living out the generosity of Jesus Christ, as that has formed itself in our national character. . . We see what a wonderful heritage we have, and the hope we can bring to the poorest and those with the greatest suffering on the face of our planet."

The "toll" during 2014 was referred to by several other leaders in their Christmas messages. The Pope's address was sombre: "Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus," he told an audience of 80,000 in St Peter's Square.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said that 2014 had been "especially bleak". While "a vulnerable God cannot wave a magic wand and save the world from evil and tragedy," he could "respond to it by being involved in its pain". After referring to the refugee crisis, he called on Christians to urge the Government to "open our borders to far more of them than the few we do shelter".

The Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, reflected for the BBC on a "very difficult year", in which the Anglican Church had "almost lost most of our presence in Syria". He expressed concern for the future of Christians in the whole of the Middle East.

In his message, the Prime Minister reflected on the "Christian values of giving, sharing and taking care of others. This Christmas I think we can be very proud as a country at how we honour these values through helping those in need at home and around the world." Mr Cameron paid tribute to "extraordinary professionals and volunteers", including those treating Ebola-virus victims in Africa.

God knows me deeply, says deserted Welby

THE Archbishop of Canterbury spoke openly about trials he has endured as a son and a father, in an interview for Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, on Sunday.

Archbishop Welby advised those facing a difficult Christmas without a loved one: "Attack the day, so that it doesn't attack you. I think the most helpful thing is to celebrate the person, to remember them with love, to remember what they gave, what you gave them."

He recalled to the programme's presenter, Kirsty Young, the death in 1983 of his daughter, Johanna, aged seven months, in a car crash. It was a "constant reminder of the uncertainty of life. The only certainty in life is Christ. Everything else is contingent."

The Archbishop told Ms Young that "Blessed be your name" by Matt and Beth Redman (the refrain of which is "You give and take away") encapsulated this experience. It was the song he would save if all but one of his selections were swept away in the waves, he said.

Asked about his experience as the son of an alcoholic father, he described one Christmas he spent alone, while his father stayed in bed all day. Finding all the shops closed, and "a sandwich or something" in the fridge, he had had a "grim, grim day". His father was "always unpredictable, sometimes very full of rage and anger".

It was not all grim. Beethoven's Sixth Symphony reminded him of his grandmother's house in Norfolk and a "sense of security and safety and a place that was good, with family". He provided some insights into a happy family life as a husband, and a father of five, which included "very noisy" games of Racing Demon, during which he sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (his first track) to distract other players. Ironing was a good opportunity, he found, to pray.

His earliest memory was having tea with Winston Churchill, in 1961: "I remember a very, very old man and he cried. I don't know why, and because he cried, I cried, and then we sat and had tea."

Arriving in the radio studio just hours after flying in from Sierra Leone, where he met Ebola patients, the Archbishop drew several times on his experiences in Africa. His fourth musical choice was "Yesu Odeshi", performed by Kapicho of South Sudan. It reminded him of "that sense of their faith and trust and joy in God, in the midst of absolute horror".

Asked about the Church's position on gay relationships, he said: "I'm really not going to answer the question very well." He said that it would be "inappropriate" to "weigh in" during the process of facilitated conversations.

But, he said: "It's something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I'm very aware of this, that it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against."

Choosing songs, he confessed, had been "like pulling teeth", owing to his inability to remember the music he liked. But, with the aid of a colleague, he had selected tracks including the anthem "God is with us" by John Taverner, which he had heard at Coventry Cathedral; and Gerry and the Pacemakers' "You'll Never Walk Alone", which reminded him of Liverpool, an "amazing, wonderful, poor, battered, thrusting, lively, humorous city"; "Listen, Listen, O my child", which had been commissioned from Michael Berkeley by his mother and step-father, for his archiepiscopal installation.

He confessed that his "constant companion" as Archbishop of Canterbury​ was impostor syndrome. But becoming a Christian had revealed that "there was someone who knew me better than I knew myself, and who loves me more deeply than anyone, despite knowing absolutely everything about me, including the things I deeply dislike about myself."

His luxury item was the complete boxed set of The West Wing, a seven-series show about the challenges of high office.

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