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Archbishop of Canterbury at New Year: God rejoices in small acts of love

01 January 2021


The Archbishop of Canterbury gives his New Year’s message in the chapel at St Thomas’ Hospital, London

The Archbishop of Canterbury gives his New Year’s message in the chapel at St Thomas’ Hospital, London

DESPITE the “tremendous pain and sadness” of 2020, there is hope in the New Year ahead, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his New Year’s message.

Archbishop Justin Welby used the message, broadcast on BBC1 on New Year’s Day, as an opportunity to reflect on his time as a volunteer assistant chaplain at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, part of which is across the road from Lambeth Palace.

He recollected: “One evening, I might be with a young child, praying with him and his mother. On another, I could be sharing a joke with someone — finding a moment of warmth and connection in a frightening time. Sometimes the most important thing we do is just sit with people, letting them know they are not alone.”

The Archbishop continued: “This year has seen tremendous pain and sadness. Many of us have lost family members or friends, often without being able to say goodbye. For anyone who is on the dark and difficult journey of grief — a path I know myself — I want to assure you that I am praying for you.

“But it’s at St Thomas’ that, alongside acknowledging this darkness, I find reasons to be hopeful for the year ahead. Because what I see here teaches me something about human beings — and about God. This crisis has shown us how fragile we are. It has also shown us how to face this fragility.

“Here at the hospital, hope is there in every hand that’s held, and every comforting word that’s spoken. Up and down the country, it’s there in every phone call. Every food parcel or thoughtful card. Every time we wear our masks.”

In the Bible, he said, “God rejoices in these small acts of love — because they reveal who we truly are: human beings made in God’s image, deeply connected to one another. Such gestures speak to me of Jesus — the one who shows us what God’s love looks like. And for this reason, we can have hope for each and every month ahead.”

Speaking on Thursday, before his message was broadcast, Archbishop Welby said that working at St Thomas’ Hospital during the pandemic, and recording his New Year message in the chapel there, had been a humbling experience.

“Patients, staff, and visitors have used this chapel for quiet reflection and prayer for over 150 years. It was the place where Florence Nightingale came to pray. To this day it remains a sanctuary where people can find stillness, solace, and hope in the presence of Jesus Christ, irrespective of their faith. The presence of God there is unmistakable.”

He had also been reminded of the “essential role that chaplains play in healthcare settings — providing comfort, reassurance, spiritual support and hope to staff, patients, and relatives. During this crisis, when so many people have been alone in hospital without their loved ones, they have offered something valuable beyond measure.”

He concluded: “As we enter this New Year, key workers right across our society should be very much in our prayers. Let us be praying for their protection and safety, and resilience and wellbeing. Let us be praying, too, that we take inspiration from the courage and compassion of the staff here at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and across the NHS.”

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, is releasing a series of short reflections, prayers, and poems throughout January on a similar theme: “Our Hope is Found”.

He explained on Thursday: “2020 has been an incredibly hard year for everyone, and it is going to be a long time before we begin to feel some semblance of normality return. We all need hope, and I believe that our hope is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

“Knowing God through him brings life, peace, and hope that no matter what happens he is with us. As people listen to the reflections, I pray they can see that, as we trust in God and seek to follow him, we can have a peace which is beyond our understanding, and a hope that is sure and steadfast for what is to come.”

In his first reflection, released on New Year’s Day, Archbishop Cottrell considers the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to worship the king’s golden idol instead of their God. “We can trust in God whether times are good or bad,” he is to say.

Pope Francis, in his New Year message, spoke of the Covid-19 crisis as “a global phenomenon cutting across boundaries, aggravating deeply interrelated crises like those of the climate, food, the economy, and migration, and causing great suffering and hardship”.

Lives and livelihoods had been lost, he said, while health workers “made, and are continuing to make, great sacrifices to be present to the sick, to alleviate their sufferings and to save their lives; indeed, many of them have died in the process.

“In paying tribute to them, I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable.”

The Pope went on: “We have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake.

“These and other events that marked humanity’s path this past year have taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society.” and he advocated “a culture of care as a way to combat the culture of indifference, waste, and confrontation so prevalent in our time”.

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