Interview with the Archbishop of York on his new book, Dear England
WHEN the Archbishop of York, Bishop Stephen Cottrell, stopped for coffee at Paddington Station, he didn’t expect a conversation that would spark a one-pound letter to the nation. It started with a question. What, asked the barista who was preparing his white dish, made you become a priest?
The answer, he writes in Dear England, the book aroused by their exchange, can be summed up in two essential truths: “It is because I believe in God and that I want to change the world.
But the book contains much more than personal testimonies. It is a vast exploration of the current landscape, conceived as a path to Christianity for those who may not have considered it; an opportunity to reflect on meaning and purpose, in a world full of “hurt and confusion”.
It’s a book addressed to the country in a time of division and pandemic, but encompasses reflections on a range of topics from his impressions of local churches to the global catastrophe of the climate emergency to Brexit. , the NHS, racism and a lot more.
It begins with the staff – unpacking the barista’s expectations of two particular types of people of faith she expects to meet: those who view faith as a hobby – “In most cases, their lives don’t end. stood out from the lives of others, except for the fact that they went to church on Sunday, ”he writes – and those who, in his own words,“ have so firmly embraced their faith that it has scared everyone ”.
He wants to advocate a third way, especially to those who are outside the Church, saying in our conversation: “The heart of the Christian faith has always been on this subject is a new way of inhabiting the earth, in community with others.
Its uniqueness, he says, lies in “its reorganization of the human community and the command to love our neighbor as ourselves” – something that may have lost its power to surprise. “Just because we’ve gotten so used to hearing these phrases, it’s very easy not to see how radical they are and how counter-cultural and even counter-intuitive they are. “
On the contrary, it is important to remember that “the Christian way offers something strange, beautiful and different in belonging to one another”.
The key to this is the local church. He draws a parallel between this and the post-pandemic appreciation of the health service. “Quite often you hear people complaining about the NHS: it’s a lot of bureaucracy, it’s badly run, it’s inefficient. And then you ask them about their local GP and their local hospital and they say, “Oh, well, that’s different, my local GP, my local hospital. This is fantastic: the service I received. ‘
“I think it’s a bit like that with the Church of England. There is often frustration with the Church of England. But as soon as you ask people about their local church, they are filled with pride and admiration.
He acknowledges that this is not a one-size-fits-all experience: “We could do better, of course. There is much more we should be doing. But what they experience is a motley and confused kind of humanity of all ages and types. There aren’t many places left in our society where even people of different ages mingle, let alone others.
Drawing on his own early inspiration from Anglo-Catholic slum priests, who “did not use the language of church planting, but planted churches in the poorest communities of Victorian England, in the new cities that were growing, ”he notes the history of the Church has been a story of adaptability and adaptation to different contexts. . .
“With each generation, you are looking for new ways to reach new people and new communities,” he says. “So it was never a ‘one size fits all’.
The England he is speaking to is torn by inequality, a subject he tackles directly. “For those who are left behind and excluded,” he says, “we need to ask tough questions about why the world has been ordered this way.
“The book says, ‘What kind of a world do we want to live in?’ And the Christian story offers a story of hope, which transcends political parties to say: “These are things that it would be good to see in our world. They are not taken for granted. ‘
REBUILDING after the pandemic could provide an opportunity to do things differently. “One of my predecessors, William Temple, was one of the great architects of what was called the post-war consensus, the birth of the welfare state, the NHS; and that was a time when, again, through parties, Christian ideas, about who we are, how we belong to each other, our responsibilities to each other, began to shape the political narrative. .
Then he makes a contemporary analogy. “I was vaccinated yesterday,” he says. “I celebrate and give thanks for the health care we have in this country and for the good it has done for me and for my neighbor. For me, it’s not a big step to say, “I want this resolved for the housing of the people. I want it to be that way for other basic things, like the food on the table. ‘ And we should not accept to live in a world where it is not.
He describes the impact of the culture of choice in the book: “For most of us, there just isn’t one absolute truth: you have your truth, I have mine; as long as we don’t hurt ourselves, what’s the problem? – and describes the social and religious changes that encouraged him. . .
“The danger is making only the choices that are right for me, and giving me what I want. And the danger is that in the end you cannot escape your neighbor. No matter how you build the wall, your neighbor is always on the other side.
“So, better to dismantle the walls. The vaccine is a very, very good example. You could say that until everyone is vaccinated, no one is vaccinated.
He pleads for an “enlightened personal interest in loving your neighbor” that can resonate with those who have not been brought up with a Christian world view that sacrifices itself. “The best way to serve myself, paradoxically, is to serve my neighbor, because then we are building a world of greater justice, greater opportunities for all, better access to health care, housing, all other things” , he said.
“And when the world is better, my life is better. . . And the alternative – not to love your neighbor? Do you see yourself isolated from your neighbor? – well, it’s horribly, horribly dangerous.
IN ADDITION to the uncertainty of post-pandemic England, we are also sailing in post-Brexit England. “New challenges lie ahead,” he said, regarding UK relations with Europe.
Again, good neighborliness is important. “The stories leading up to Brexit have rather undermined, perhaps, part of our confidence in our neighbors,” he said. “We have to work hard to rebuild trust, to say that we want to have the best possible relationship. Therefore, we must believe in the best of our neighbor and work for his well-being as well as for our own. “
However, he cautions: “It is really important that the Church stays out of party politics. It is important that the Church has a voice, a distinct Christian voice on the Christian way of looking at the world, and then invites all people of goodwill, politicians of all parties, to respond as they see fit. appropriate. And the Church is always ready to help in different ways.
The book also discusses English, and what he calls “a new patriotism”. He explains when we speak: “We have to develop a narrative about being English and [about] the English regions, which is a positive story, rooted in our belonging to each other. Particularly in England, and the UK now, which is multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-racial. There is great and glorious diversity in the UK today.
What would he say to those who see diversity differently, and refuse to see it as positive? In the book, he is candid about racial injustice and asks, “Why is Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, still often portrayed as white? White hegemony still controls the world’s narrative. And white people usually can’t see it.
He also writes: “Racism operates much like our perception of accent. He is there in us, but we do not recognize him. I speak normally, we say to ourselves. Other people have accents.
When we speak, he says: “My experience in the Church of England is a great desire, first of all, to face some of our own difficulties, and failures, with racism, and then to take the lead. ‘a story of how to say that there is another way to inhabit the world.
“We want to face our own difficult history in these subjects, want to learn. And I hope that in due time we can offer something to the nation as well, about how we live together and celebrate our diversity. “
WE RETURN to the local church and task forces looking ten years ahead, while also facing the immediate challenges presented by the pandemic. “We, like all organizations around the world, have suffered a financial blow because of Covid. But we don’t panic. It is a challenge, but it is not a hopeless situation.
“I’m a little frustrated,” he says of recent debates over the use and costs of buildings, “because I think there’s a willful misunderstanding in one or two places. And I don’t quite understand why. I may be naive.
“There will always be so-called core costs, but I am committed to helping us find a way forward. In a very complex and dispersed organization, is there a way to do this that will be more efficient and effective? It seems kind of a paradox to me that part of the content of the articles is “Why don’t they look at all these core costs? When in fact that is precisely what we are doing. . .
“But, because it’s sensitive work, because it’s a work in progress, then it would clearly be inappropriate to even say what we are thinking about. But when and if some plans emerge, of course they will be shared. The work that I do concerns what really matters, that is to say the spiritual, theological, missiological renewal of the Church, because without it there will be no Church.
He continues: “In fact, in my heart and in my mind, I am clear that the Church of England is this wonderful network of local churches. I want there to be more churches, not less churches. I want us to have more diversity.
“I’m not going to apologize for wanting us to approach younger and more diverse people – not at the expense of older people. It is often the elderly who care most that the Church does not have many young people. This is what I spend my time thinking about.
Dear England: Find hope, regain courage and change the world is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £ 12.99 (Church Times Bookshop £ 10.99); 978-1-529-36095-0.