A SEVEN-YEAR-OLD refugee and Nelson Mandela were two examples of hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury drew on, in a talk during an online school assembly that was broadcast on Thursday morning.
The assembly was organised by Oak National Academy, an online hub which provides video lessons and curriculum resources during the coronavirus pandemic, and broadcast on the YouTube channel of Tes (formerly The Times Educational Supplement). It featured messages from the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, and clips of schoolchildren speaking about what gives them hope.
Speaking from the kitchen table in his flat in Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Welby said: “Lots of you will have sad reasons for remembering this year: people who were ill, people who died, fear, the lockdown, economic worries, pressure at home, rows, and difficulties. There’ll be lots of things that you’re going through. What do we do with that?
“For Christians, it’s all summed up in a word: hope. . . In the Bible, hope means the certain expectation of something you don’t have yet that you will have in the future, because it’s been promised by God. Hope is hope of life, hope of purpose, hope of peace, hope of justice, equality, and a good future.”
The Archbishop described a visit to the Nuba mountains, in Sudan, several years ago, during which he met “a little seven-year-old, who had run away from some fighting, been separated from his parents, been picked up by a small group of other people running away: refugees.
“I sat next to him. Couldn’t speak his language; he couldn’t speak mine. I prayed for him in English, but I’ve often pictured him. What hope did that child have, did those refugees have?
“Well, for them, as it happens, they were Christians. They believed that God was with them in the middle of the mess and that God would free them. They were going to get to a refugee camp, a place where the international community and national government had set up feeding and tents. . .
“And there, when I went to a refugee camp a few days later, the first thing they’d done was set up schools — schools under trees, in the open. They’d planted for next year: a sign of hope. They were looking to the future, they were planting knowledge in young people and food for the families.
“And that came out not of physical possibilities, but of spiritual hope. Because human beings aren’t just physical: they’re spiritual as well. And when we nurture the spirit, we can find that our emotions are healthier, our mental health is better, our physical health is better. We have hope, and hope gives us purpose, and we know that we’re loved, and Christians believe we’re loved and called by God.
Archbishop Welby then held up a copy of Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela, whom he described as “one of my heroes”, who, after being released from prison, had “reconciled so much of the hatred” in South Africa.
“While he was in prison, he remained positive, he was patient, he learnt not to hate, and he always kept going under pressure. Positivity, patience, keeping going under pressure: three Ps that speak of how we nurture hope. One of the wonderful things he said, which came out of his hope, was ‘May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.’ That would be my prayer for you today.”
Archbishop Welby also spoke specifically of the Christian hope: “Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross, unjustly, but, on the third day, he rose from the dead. He conquered death because he was both fully human, understood our weaknesses; and fully God, able to overcome the greatest enemy: death. And it’s because of him that I have always known hope, even in the worst of times.”
He ended the talk with a short prayer.
Church House announced on Thursday that weekly collective worship would be provided online by the Church of England and Oak National Academy. It will draw on the resources of a programme, launched on Thursday, #FaithAtHome. Its purpose is “to make prayer a household habit once again”, a statement from Church House said.
The programme will feature videos led by children, young people, and school staff members from around the country. “Over the next three months,” the statement said, “#FaithAtHome will explore themes including courage, patience, generosity, resilience, love and hope.”
Archbishop Welby said: “The aim of these resources is to offer simple ways for families and households to approach complex and difficult topics, such as illness, fear, and bereavement.
“The coronavirus pandemic has forced people of all ages to confront difficult and painful questions that none of us can explore on our own; we need one another to help navigate them.”
In an article published on the Tes website, on Thursday, Archbishop Welby wrote: “I’m not necessarily calling for a return to a time when families said grace before every meal, or prayed together each morning and evening — although, that would be rather wonderful. But as well as providing support and resources, Faith at Home also poses a challenge: can we use this time to reimagine some of what it means to help children develop and deepen their spiritual lives?
“And by that I don’t only mean through prayer, conversation and reflection. Those are crucial places to begin. But the adventure of the spiritual life also lies in what those activities lead to — loving action in the service of the common good; solidarity with the weakest, poorest and most excluded, and seeing what we have as being for the benefit of all.
“That is why my hope and prayer for Faith at Home is that it not only provides children and young people with ways to engage with the difficult questions being posed by our current crisis. But that it also inspires them to explore how they can become the answers to their own prayers, and, when this crisis is over, that they are freshly inspired to love and serve those around them.”
Faith at Home videos can be accessed each week at www.churchofengland.org/faithathome.