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General Synod: presidential address

13 July 2018

The address was given by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, on Saturday

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu

THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, began his presidential address by asking why the public had found the royal-wedding address by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, so unusual. Was it because Bishop Curry was an African American? Because he smiled?

“And yet Bishop Michael is Anglican, from the Episcopal Church in America, and the content of his sermon was unremarkable to the ears of regular churchgoers. . . What is the perception of the Anglican Church, and in particular, the Church of England, that this event should have seemed so remarkable to so many?”

He looked back to a report presented to the General Synod in York in 1981, To a Rebellious House? — a title taken from Ezekiel, whose message, he said, “was one of slavery, poverty, and political oppression”. The report was presented at a time of political upheaval, troubles in Northern Ireland, recession, poverty, and racism.

“At that time,” Dr Sentamu said, “the Church of England was perceived as the ‘Tory Party at Prayer’: self-satisfied, unadventurous, stuck in our ways. Could we hear the challenge? Could we change? Of course, the Church of England can and does change — but it has been described as being like a large oil tanker: difficult to turn around. Change takes time.”

It took ten years for that report to be followed up, he said. And further decades to embrace the ordination of women, and the development of lay people. “But are we still regarded as complacent because we are ‘by law established’? From the reaction of that wedding sermon last month, it seems that general expectations of life, excitement, witness from the Church of England are still low.”

The social, political, and economic climate was not so different today as in 1981, he said. As then, “God is always nudging us to hope.” He gave examples of what hope might look like for children, young people, people in middle age and older age, and LGBT people.

He also asked what hope might look like for survivors of abuse. “Answer: ‘We are with you.’ Total solidarity,” he said. “A willingness to stand in their shoes — which will be very uncomfortable. Justice also demands that alleged abusers are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But they must tell of the truth and nothing but the truth.”

Dr Sentamu continued. “A Church has zero tolerance to all forms of abuse of children and vulnerable adults — in fact of everyone. Where there is a whiff of the smallest allegation of abuse, the Church, we, must act to give assurance and hope.”

Divine forgiveness, the Kingdom of God, and worship were the “unchanging” gospel realities, he said. “I believe there is no need to over-complicate Christ’s Gospel. So I end with a plea that, as we go out with a message of hope to the people who we live amongst, we first search our hearts to know truly where our own hope comes from.”

Read a report of every General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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