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Questions and Answers

The Archbishop answers Angelique Richardson's confirmation questions

As a young girl growing up in the Christian faith, I had lots of questions, and I didn't understand all the religious stories in the news. So I decided to find out more from a man I knew would have some answers...

When I visited the Archbishop of York on the 3rd December 2006, I was very nervous and it didn't help either when my right eye kept twitching! But as soon as he walked through the door all the nerves were gone in a split second. The Archbishop Dr. John Sentamu was very outgoing and put me at ease with his laughter and jokes. It was a day that I will never forget.

This is a transcript of the interview:

If you hadn't been a minister of religion, what would you have liked to be?

I was originally a lawyer and a barrister and so I would have continued working in the law in Uganda.

What is being a minister of religion all about?

A minister of religion is somebody who has been called by the church to preach, teach and celebrate the good things of God and Christ. There's also the celebration of the sacrament, baptism and the Holy Communion. You find yourself having to baptise, celebrating communion, take funerals, having to visit people, but really the heart of it is to try and bring the love of God in Jesus Christ to anybody, everybody, anywhere.

Why did you want to become an archbishop in the first place?

I didn't, I was asked! I had been a vicar in South London for 17 years and they asked me to be Bishop of Stepney in East London. I was also bishop for Birmingham. Then in 2002 I received a letter inviting me to become Archbishop of York, that the Queen had agreed to my appointment of the Archbishop of York, so I was invited.

How do you think we could get more young people into church without any pressure?

When I was a vicar we had a Sunday school which ran for youngsters and then a Youth Club for the older people, and it was very well attended. We put a lot of fun into this and a bit of life into it. But I think faith is best learnt at home. We've got to make sure that our families and our homes are places where the faith is talked about. If it is talked about in the home you'll have an idea what it's about when you go to school. Belief in God is not simply knowing there is a God; God affects your life on a day-to-day basis.

Do you think that parents should play a bigger role in teaching their children Christianity?

The tradition, which we inherited from the Jews, is that faith is learnt at home. Unfortunately we haven't been doing this very well in the Church of England really. When you teach your children to brush their teeth, wash their faces, make their beds, keep things tidy, that is the same way we should talk about faith. Day-to-day experience, day-to-day living, and it's not the kind of thing parents think is their responsibility, but it is really.

"In Africa there's a saying that it takes the whole village to educate a child. It's the whole family of God that has the responsibility." Dr John Sentamu

Whose responsibility is it to ensure children are aware of Christianity and other religions as well? 

I think the responsibility at the heart of it, is for the whole church. In Africa there's a saying that it takes the whole village to educate a child. It's the whole family of God that has the responsibility. When a child is baptised as a baby questions asked about whether that child will be raised to know and love Christ. The questions address the whole church as well as the parents. But unfortunately as soon as the baby is baptised the wider church family doesn't seem to take any interest. When I worked in an inner city there were a lot of single parents. We took it as our responsibility to look after the young people. So it's the whole church, the whole family.

Do you think the church is racist?

No, because when we say it's racist we're implying that the church has policies that discriminate against a particular minority of people. What I can say though, that it is possible for an organisation to behave in a way which discriminates against minorities because of the way things have been done in the past. If we use an analogy (I'm not trying to be against smokers), when somebody smokes, when they leave the room it still smells of smoke! And racism, particularly in an organisation, can hang around like that in the way things are done, and the organisation can work in such a way that it doesn't really allow people to go forward.

Take women's ordination - why did it take such a long time for women to become priests in the Church of England? I mean, what was the problem? The organisation believed that men only should be priests. Hey! I don't understand that. These are people who were baptised, they were confirmed, they sought Christ. It took them a long, long time to change the organisation. I suspect that in a country like this it is very easy for systems to stay in place that actually discriminate against people.

How important is it to understand other faiths?

I think in a country like this, it is very important because racism and prejudice often come out of ignorance. Ignorance isn't in short supply, so I would rather people be educated in other faiths so that they don't make mistakes and insult other people. In the long run they should appreciate living in peace with everybody and the more you know about other peoples' ways of understanding God the better. Another thing is: if you wanted to persuade people of other faiths to follow Christ, unless a) you know your faith very well and b) you know what it is that they believe in, it is not easy to have a sensible conversation.

What do you think of multi faith worship?

I don't think that multi faith worship will really ever be on, because it implies there are no real problems and differences. If you follow a religion that doesn't really believe in God then what is it that you are worshipping? Actually as a Christian I believe that there is only one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and it isn't good saying that because a Muslim believes in one God like I do that's ok. There comes a point where I say Jesus is not a prophet, He is the Son of God. So if we're going to be worshipping God honestly with each other, I have to talk about Jesus as the Son of God but that's uncomfortable for Muslims and vice versa.

I think the best thing to do is there could be multi turn of worship, reading and worship, which has the best tradition. I'll give you an example: at the beginning of the Iraq war, in the Birmingham Cathedral there was a bishop. There were reflections for each of the faiths. And for each of these faiths nobody had a problem with it, because we were not talking about our understanding of God; actually we were reading about the need to be kind and friendly and those kinds of things can easily be done in terms of having a service where every faith is doing its bit of worship.

What do you think of politics and religion?

I'll put it this way: for me the Christian faith embraces every department of life and what it can't do is to serve the position of those who have been elected to govern. This is God's world and one day all the Kingdoms of the world will belong to Christ. Therefore what is done in the world today is of the greatest interest to God. So if there are government policies that I believe are not right, and if there is going to be discrimination then it is the role of the church to speak up and to say 'this is not the way of God'.

And so there is separation between what you call politics, in terms of government, and religion, in terms of believing in God. When you separate them too much I think you end up in a state which is not good really. And another thing is in this country the Queen was crowned at a service which gave her authority. So there is a sense in which you cannot separate the Queen from her government.

What makes you laugh?

People! People are very funny and that is why I love talking to them.

What is your favourite food?

I think my favourite food would have to be a good roast. Yes! It goes down well. I do like cooking as well. 

Do you like football?     

Yes.

Who do you support?    

Oh my goodness! I knew you were going to ask that question! Man U! Since I was 17 years old I have supported them and York City, my local team.

What was the last book you read?

The Servant Leadership by an American writer. It is a very, very good book. This man wrote this book and it describes how the best leadership is always by serving people and seeing them as though you're their servant.

What is your favourite book?

The Chronicles of Narnia is my favourite because it is very adventurous and exciting. There are seven books and they are all very exciting.

What is your favourite hymn?

Christ is the King of Friends Rejoice Brothers and Sisters with One Voice let Him Know He is Your Choice, would have to be my favourite. And I think the other one is Bind Them to Thee to Name This Day the Trinity. The third would be All the Holy Saints.

What is your favourite Blessing?

I think it is the one that is on Trinity Sunday. May God the Holy Trinity make you strong in love and faith and hope and defend your every side. Guide you in peace and truth and to bless the God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Do you enjoy camping?

No! I was a boy scout back in Uganda and when we went camping it was always hot - it was fine. But in this country, never! You'd get rained out! I camped in the Minster for seven days and that was all right. Camping inside is a whole different story though.

Do you like the snowy weather when it comes? 

When it is dry. I don't really like it when there's all that wet sludge on the ground! But when there is dry snow it is lovely. Lovely.

What is your favourite destination?

Heaven.

Have you been to heaven before?

No, but I am trying to serve a God who I know is loved and worshipped in heaven. In heaven there's no tears, no more crying, no more pain, there will be no sea either. The sea has always stood for violence. There will be no buildings because God Almighty will be giving it light and sun so that will be my destination. I also hope you'll join me when I get there!

What are your hobbies?

When I was a bit stronger and fitter I used to play rugby, but now at my age I think that is a little bit too dangerous. I like music, reading, going to the gym. I go to the gym every day! Even today I went to the gym! 

What has been your biggest achievement so far in your life, and what do you think you'll be doing in ten years time?

I think my biggest achievement so far is... keeping my smile. Even when the going is bad. I think that's the best thing. My mother used to have a wonderful phrase: rise above it!

I hope to still be in York in ten years time.

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

I would put away ignorance about the love of God in Jesus Christ. People can be so ignorant! If I could open their eyes to see the love of God in Christ that is what I would change

One Year On

In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio York, the Archbishop of York reviews the last 12 months Sentamu: One Year On.