BISHOPS have painted a hopeful picture of a post-Brexit Britain in their New Year messages.
After the Prime Minister’s declaration that Article 50 will be triggered in March, so that Britain can leave the EU in March 2019, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his message, spoke of a “tough campaign” that had “left divisions”, but argued that reconciliation was possible: “I know that if we look at our roots, our culture, and our history in the Christian tradition . . . we will find a path towards reconciling the differences that have divided us.”
The message, filmed in Coventry, celebrated the welcome given to refugees in the city (News, 24 July, 2015).
Archbishop Welby said: “If we’re welcoming to those in need, if we’re generous in giving, if we take hold of our new future with determination and courage, then we will flourish. Living well together despite our differences, offering hospitality to the stranger and those in exile, with unshakeable hope for the future — these are the gifts, the commands, and the promises of Jesus Christ.
”They are also the foundations of our best shared values, traditions, and practices in Britain. They make us the country we can be — a gift and source of confidence to this troubled world, in which we live not only for ourselves, but as a beacon of hope, a city set on a hill.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, had words of support for the nation’s farmers. Urging people to “buy British” in an article for British Farmer and Grower — North East, he wrote: “I don’t know what will happen to farming when we leave the EU — but the skills, fortitude, and resourcefulness I have seen indicate a bright future ahead.”
Despite the “uncertainties” raised by the referendum, the “history and inheritance that is characteristic of the Church” would “continue to link us into a broader picture of the world that we belong to”, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, suggested. “Holding that through Christianity is going to be very important for us.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, struck a more ominous note in his blog. “My guess is that those who found common cause in ‘breaking down’ will struggle to find common cause in what they wish to see ‘built up’,” he wrote. “It is not enough to know what we are against, and to be angry about it; we must know what we are for, and commit ourselves to making it happen. Building up is always harder than breaking down.”
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, chose to highlight the story of Heinrich Steinmeyer, a German man who left his entire estate to the village of Comrie in Scotland, where he had been a prisoner of war and had experienced kindness and generosity. “My hope and prayer for 2017 is that there will be less division, less hate, and less conflict,” he said.
Prescriptions for fear and uncertainty were also offered in Christmas messages. As 2016 drew to a close, people “might be tempted to say ‘Good riddance!’”, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, suggested.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, read from W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (”Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”), and warned of a “new Ice Age of humanity: sterile and tedious”. Hope, he said, “seems to be in short supply”.
Archbishop Welby, in his Christmas sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, spoke of a world that seemed “awash with fear and division”. It was unclear whether it was this sermon — in which the Archbishop spoke of a child lowered into a supermarket bin to scavenge for food — or Archbishop Welby’s tweet “Jesus came to us homeless and in a manger. This Christmas please pray with me for the poor, hungry, and homeless, here and abroad”, that annoyed the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage. “Merry Christmas,” he tweeted. “Ignore all negative messages from the Archbishop of Canterbury and have a great day!”
The interjection prompted tweets of solidarity with the Archbishop, who had suggested in his sermon that “Our feelings tell us that our values are in the wrong place. . . Economic progress, technological progress, communication progress, hasn’t resulted in economic justice.” Many were tempted to “put aside those things which trouble us as much as possible”, he suggested.
His fellow bishops tended not to succumb. Syria, climate change, and migration were among the crises catalogued in their sermons.
”For those sitting in the ruins of Aleppo today, the call of the prophet to ‘break forth together into singing’ would seem like a rather sick joke,” the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, said.
Bishop Chartres argued that the optimism of the early 20th century had been “founded on ugly ideologies and illusions”. That confidence was now under attack by “all the forces we label as ‘extremist’”.
”Merely invoking the universal concepts of tolerance, democracy, and the rule of law, with which we probably all agree, does not appear to generate sufficient energy to strip extremism of its allure, nor to transform lives and build a community,” he warned. There was a need for “narratives capacious enough to permit development and to accommodate new themes. . . This is urgent, because there are many seductive narratives . . . offering a cause . . . for the disaffected. You cannot exorcise the satanic by creating a spiritual vacuum.”
He continued: “Our contemporary world is dominated by technology, systems, and machines, and needs to rediscover its heart. If we want to avoid moving into a new Ice Age of humanity . . . then we must seek to give more weight to reasons of the heart.”
Amid references to many social ills, at home and abroad, and including violence in prisons, loneliness, anxiety linked to social media, and the “misery” caused by strikes (the latter noted by the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson), bishops spoke of light and hope.
Archbishop Welby had seen God’s glory “among those on the edge”. The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, thanked his diocese for taking up the call to speak more about Jesus. There was new life to celebrate for Dr Inge, who welcomed his first grandchild in April. Bishop Langstaff, spoke of God “at our side now and for eternity”.
The Queen spoke of the hope inspired by the acts of goodness of “unsung heroes”.
And she ended her Christmas broadcast: “Jesus Christ lived obscurely for most of his life, and never travelled far. He was maligned and rejected by many, though he had done no wrong. And yet, billions of people now follow his teaching, and find in him the guiding light for their lives.
”I am one of them, because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them, and whatever they themselves believe.”