ENGLAND is a conundrum for Anglicans. As the Archbishop of York acknowledges in this winsome, accessible book, English Anglicans are generally more at home with Britain, Europe, or the wider world than with their Church’s troublesome surname. And yet, like others in this divided kingdom, we must discover how to love England again and find forms of identity or allegiance which can be little without being narrow.
That Dear England recognises this imperative is to be warmly welcomed. Written from the grip of pandemic to an unsteady nation, it is not, however, an essay about the country, but an affectionate letter, commending Christ. Sparked by an encounter in a coffee shop at Paddington Station, Cottrell seeks to express Christian truth in a way that might stir up interest in its transformative power — especially for shaping the common good. “The first and most dangerous sin of all”, he considers, towards the end, “is the enthroning of self and the denial of community.”
Starting with wonder as the wellspring of faith, this warm and conversational tract for our times leads to considering Jesus as the “lens through which we see God”, focusing on the news of his resurrection as the source of Christianity’s extraordinary impact on the ancient world. Notwithstanding his lightness of tone, Cottrell includes a sizeable excerpt from the second-century Epistle to Diognetus to convey the alien and provocative place in society occupied by early followers of “The Way”.
With radical love of neighbour presented as the Church’s distinctive strength, the last part homes in on how this might again shape the nation and answer its current range of predicaments — ecological, technological and social. Cottrell calls for a new, collaborative Englishness: “one that is not defined in opposition to others”.
The Archbishop has written a heartfelt and appealing apologetic. The question that it poses, however (as he freely admits), is whether this letter will reach those to whom it is addressed — which is arguably also the most pressing challenge for a socially distanced Church in its approach to England. We can only hope so, for the sake of both.
The Rt Revd Andrew Rumsey is the Bishop of Ramsbury in the diocese of Salisbury.
Dear England: Finding hope, taking heart and changing the world
Hodder & Stoughton £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.99