The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend John Sentamu
NAA: Do you maintain contact with Uganda, with family and friends perhaps?
ABY: I still have many friends and relatives in Uganda. I continue to pray for those involved in God’s ministry there, and across Africa more widely.
NAA: How do you see things there?
ABY: I think it’s important not to try and speak about what is going on from afar. What we need to do, in every situation, is listen to the people on the ground who are involved in the daily realities of life in their local community. We should be ready to listen with an open ear and a patient heart.
NAA: How has your Ugandan upbringing helped you in your duties as Archbishop?’
ABY: It’s hard to say. I think that no matter what your background is, God can use you for his glory. We are very fortunate that there is no identikit formula for who becomes an ordained priest – God calls many different people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, all with different life experiences. I think that’s fantastic.
For me, the idea of family has always been important. Growing up in Uganda we never had much money, but we had a wonderfully happy upbringing. We had a big family, and our parents used to spend time telling stories, singing songs and reading to us. It made me realise from an early age that what is important is our relationships with other people – spending time getting alongside people wherever they are – rather than things such as status or money.
Whether I am Sentamu – lawyer, or Sentamu – Parish Priest, or Sentamu – Archbishop; my call is to follow Jesus wherever he may lead. There is a saying in Africa that “It takes a village to raise a child”, we should never forget that we aren’t living in isolation, but rather in community with each other. We all have a role to play and have a responsibility to help those around us.
NAA: Despite the fall in church attendance in the West, this has been growing in Africa? Why is this?
ABY: Actually over a million people still attend a service in one of the Church of England’s 16,000 churches as part of a typical week – and research shows the vast majority of people will visit a church at some point during the year and would describe themselves as a Christian. I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom, by any means!
What the Church has to continue to do is to go out and meet people where they are, rather than waiting for them to come into a church building. When I was growing up the whole village would go to church and we would spend hours singing songs and reading the scriptures waiting for the priest to arrive to give communion – but it is probably unreasonable to expect that nowadays when people have such busy lives.
I think it is great that the Church is engaging in innovative initiatives, such as Fresh Expressions, going out into communities and living out God’s love in practical ways. It is also great to see those places where different churches are working together in mission, to serve the common good of the whole community. Also, if you look at the statistics concerning volunteering in England, more people volunteer their time serving in activities run by the church than any other organisation. God wants us to go and live out our faith, not shut it away behind closed doors.
NAA: Do you feel that the Church in Africa has done enough in speaking out against poverty and corruption?
ABY: It’s not for me to judge what the Church in Africa has or hasn’t done. All I can do is continue to ensure that in the West we listen to the experiences of people on the ground, and pray for justice. It is an absolute scandal that some people on our planet do not have access to a basic education, to basic life-saving medicines, clean drinking water or safe and secure living environments. That has to change. We all have a responsibility to tackle global poverty.
With regard to corruption, it is important we have open and transparent structures to ensure that people get the help they need. As the psalmist says: “When the foundations are destroyed what can the just man do?” We should be thankful for the protection of the rule of law, where it exists, and always promote it where it is lacking. Leaders need to be democratically accountable for their actions. This is not something we can effect from outside, but we can continue to offer our support and prayers in solidarity.
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