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Archbishop's New Year Message

Monday 2nd January 2012

The Archbishop has written a New Year message for The Yorkshire Post newspaper. The message follows....

Happy New Year!

I hope you are excited at the year we have ahead of us, even if it is going to mean some belt-tightening. The start of a New Year is an opportunity for us to re-evaluate what is truly important and concentrate on that, not only in our own lives, but in the country at large.

I am not one for unattainable New Year’s Resolutions. They can only be temporary fixes, based on blind optimism rather than on what is sustainable. If we are not careful, after a few days the promises are broken, the underlying problems return with a vengeance and we disappoint ourselves.

Personal good intentions and national well-being should go together.  A strong society needs decent ideals, too. Yes, we need robust businesses and stable industries to help power our economy, but we also need strong morals and a shared purpose which is grounded in more than what is on the bottom line of a balance sheet in Whitehall. If we want to build a strong country, we need to ensure the foundations are solid.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech President who died last month, was invited to address the United States Congress in 1990.  He said that “the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart.” 

Candidates for election should “put morality ahead of politics, science, and economics” and that “the only genuine core of all our actions – if they are to be moral – is responsibility.”  He added that our prime responsibility is “to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success; responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where and only where they will be properly judged. The interpreter or mediator between us and this higher authority is what is traditionally referred to as human conscience."

Our Prime Minister is absolutely right when he says that “the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.”

In the Old Testament, when the Hebrew tribes arrived in their new homeland, Moses, their leader challenged them to think carefully about how they would live there. He reminded them that their service to God, and their values, were not just for that day, but for life. To live life well as a nation will be much more challenging than living out individual resolutions for a few days.

We should never forget what has made our nation great in the past, as we look to set out on our journey for the future. A nation that forgets its memory, simply becomes senile.

Our country was built on Christian faith and morals, and we should not only be grateful for this, but also celebrate this fact.

However, when we talk about ‘morality’ what do we really mean? Are we talking exclusively about the behaviour of high profile individuals in the public square?  Surely, moral concern is more than finger-pointing at MP’s who fiddled their expenses and elements of the press who behaved as if they were above the law, hacking phones and rooting through bins?  There is no justification for those practices, but morality is concerned with more than individual behaviour.  It is doing justice: giving to God and to our fellow human beings the worth due to them. ”Doing to others what we would have them do to us”.

We need to have a strong sense of public morality too.

Public institutions and policies need the sense of duty and service which should characterise our personal lives. We need to see strong policy making based on what is good for our nation, and that means accepting the responsibility to protect and care for the most vulnerable of our fellow humans.

Whether it is older people who can’t afford to pay for their long-term care, or the million young people in our country who are unemployed, we have a duty to do all we can to show each of them that their lives are as valuable as our own.

When we see others suffering and struggling in tough economic times, they need us to stand alongside and offer assistance. More than that, we should address the systems that allow unfairness and inequality to fester.  I would argue that is a moral calling.

We need strong moral and spiritual leadership in our nation, but where do we look for inspiration?

Personally, I pray daily and give thanks for our wonderful Sovereign Her Majesty the Queen and the example she has set us in her service and devotion to this nation. In her we have the embodiment of the values that we should hold dear.

Our Queen has put God first, neighbour second, duty and responsibility third, and herself last. That is true love and devotion.

In this her Diamond Jubilee year, let us celebrate Her Majesty’s contribution to public life and be proud of what it means to be British.

Let us use our Queen’s selfless example as our blueprint for serving others. We should live in hope, while serving in faith and love.

When God chose Joshua as a leader, God reminded him: “As I was with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous.”  To live by right priorities in such difficult economic times will take strength and courage on the part of us all.

If we have to tighten our belts this year, let it be an opportunity to concern ourselves for the well-being and human flourishing of  all.  We shall need strength and courage to reorder priorities.  It is my prayer that each one of us may know God walking with us every step of the way.

As her Majesty the Queen said, in her address to Parliament on 30 April 2002, to mark the start of her Golden Jubilee Celebration:

Change is a constant; managing it has become an expanding discipline.  The way we embrace it defines our future.”

Have a blessed New Year. 

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