Advanced search Click here for the website of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

Skip Content

John The Baptist - The Greatest Support Act Ever

Archbishop John Sentamu meets twins at the Leeds Children's Heart Unit

Sunday 13th January 2013

In his sermon in The Sun today, the Archbishop of York talks about John the Baptist - the greatest support act in history! He also talks about his visit to Leeds Children's Heart Surgery and the importance of remembering Mary Seacole. His full piece follows....

Christmas and New Year are traditionally times when many people will go out to a show – a Panto, a concert, or possibly a TV recording. 

If you’ve been to any of these over the holiday period you may have noticed that they often begin with an opening act, someone whose task it is to ‘warm up’ the audience before the main programme begins.

Our reading in Church today, from St Luke’s Gospel, tells us about John the Baptist, who was called to be the supporting player to the greatest Headline act in the history of the world – Jesus Christ.


John the Baptist’s task wasn’t to help his audience relax or laugh. On the contrary, his aim was to move people right out of their comfort zones, to bring them to a point where their behaviour would be turned around and their hearts and minds changed so that they were prepared for the coming of the one they were waiting for - Anointed One, their Saviour. They didn’t know his name, or when exactly he would come. But John wanted to make sure they would be ready.  So, his turn was more than just a ‘warm-up’: he gave them the message hot and strong, about how they needed to shape up. But far being put off, the crowds loved him and flocked to him, made a U-turn and were baptised; they followed him in anticipation of the coming rule of justice. In fact many of them wondered if he was actually the main attraction, the Saviour himself.


What a temptation it would be for a supporting act if they found themselves so popular that the audience thought they were the main act.  Would they want to hog the stage and refuse to give way for the star?

John the Baptist didn’t fall into that trap.  He made sure that everyone knew that the headline act would be the greatest thing they’d ever seen. And when Jesus turned up, just like a member of the audience, ready to be baptised like everyone else, God the Father’s words of love, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit made it clear that the main event had begun.


May we always be ready to give honour where it belongs, and not to be afraid of being a supporting act to Jesus Christ. That’s top billing for us!


 Leeds Children's Heart Surgery


 This week, I had the great privilege of visiting Leeds Children’s Heart Surgery Unit and to see the life-saving work being undertaken there daily.


I want to thank all the staff in the NHS for the work they are doing serving others. They are there for families in tough times, not only offering professional clinical care but also offering support when it’s needed.


I have been supporting this campaign to keep the Children’s Heart Surgery Unit at Leeds open for some time, behind the scenes. I have also raised my concerns personally with Government Ministers. But today I want to say publicly that we need to keep this Unit open.


Whilst I understand the difficult economic situation we face as a country, we should not get into a situation where one NHS Trust is played off against another. We need a strong NHS serving a large number of people.


People talk about the ‘choice’ agenda, but actually the choice people want is to be able to go to their local hospital and receive first class care, regardless of where they live. What we need is good co-ordination, collaboration, clinical excellence – and not a culture of winner-takes-all.


Mary Seacole


  There has been a lot written recently about nursing care, and controversy continues - even over nurses from 160 years ago.


The name of Florence Nightingale has long been part of this country’s proud nursing history; and in recent years we have also had the privilege of learning about another intrepid and venturesome nurse who came some distance to serve the wounded and suffering soldiers of the Crimea.  This was Mary Seacole, who travelled to London from Jamaica to volunteer as a nurse. When she was not taken on as part of the official nursing group, she went on to raise her own funds to take her out to the battlefield.

Last week I spoke of the wise men, setting off on an adventure that changed their lives. Mary Seacole was another brave, enterprising person who was willing to take risks in order to offer her skills of care and healing. Let us continue to give thanks for those who hear the call of adventure and share their gifts with us all.

Back · Back to top