Triumphs of Englishness

Dr. Sentamu shares his views on the need for an English identity which gives full recognition to its Christian nature and of celebrating St Georges Day

Pupils from Archbishop of York Junior School Wave Flags on St Georges Day

Magnanimity not tolerance

In a wide ranging lecture on 'the Triumphs of Englishness' the Archbishop said: 'That whilst may viewed "tolerance" as a key English virtue, in fact Englishness was made of stronger stuff: "for me one of the continuing triumphs of Englishness lies not in its tolerance but in its magnanimity. In its ability to meet those who have come here as strangers and to turn them into neighbours. That is the test of a magnanimous land and a magnanimous people."

"Let us recognise collectively the enormous treasure that sits in our cultural and spiritual vaults. Let's draw upon the riches of our heritage and find a sense of purpose for those who are thrashing around for meaning and settling for second best.  Let us not forego our appreciation of an English identity for fear of upset or offence to those who claim such an identity has no place a multi-cultural society. Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England's fabric, rather Englishness is emboldened to grown anew. The truth is that an all embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate. Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are."'

The Great Get Together 

Archbishop with 3 others at the Great Get Together York Synod 17 June 2017

The Archbishop of York invited all the members of his Diocesan Synod – the representative body of the 600 churches making up the Church of England’s Diocese of York – to lunch on Saturday 17th June as part of The Great Get Together, a national series of events in tribute to the late MP Jo Cox.

The three days of events (16-18 June 2017) marked the first anniversary of Jo’s murder on June 16, 2016, while working in her constituency of Batley and Spen.  Jo, who spoke of how we have more in common than that which divides us, campaigned tirelessly for a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world. Her murder sparked an outpouring of grief and solidarity in the UK and across the world. 

Archbishop Sentamu said, “At the heart of the Christian Gospel is reconciliation between us and God and in ourselves.  This reconciliation, forgiveness and justice bring us into a community of trust and compassion.

“A meeting of our Diocesan family is a great time to thank God for Jo Cox.  She inspired us with her passion for finding common ground with people of goodwill and building a better world with them.”

Brendan Cox (Jo’s husband) said:

 "I'm both amazed and humbled that so many people have said they want to take part in The Great Get Together. I think the huge response is because we’re tapping into the national mood. A desire for unity and togetherness rather than the divisiveness of politics and the public debate in recent years.

"We are hearing about new events all the time and there will no doubt be many that just happen spontaneously. The important thing is that it will be a lot of fun and will hopefully play its part in reminding us all of the values that make this country such a great place to live.”

English identity

The Archbishop has also highlighted the important political and cultural need to forge a new English identity:

"Englishness is back on the agenda. One of the consequences of the recent attacks by so called "home grown terrorists" has been to ask the question of what it means to be English? Can there be a narrative, an identity that we can all share, flexible enough to recognise the new aspects of England whilst remaining authentic enough to proudly name and recognise its own history?

"Where there is no awareness of identity, there is a vacuum to be filled. Dissatisfaction with one's heritage creates an opening for extremist ideologies. Whether it be the terror of salafi-jihadism or the insidious institutional racism of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision   if the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity.   When hateful and vile slogans are shouted at returning soldiers as they march through our towns, Joe and Jane public should gather in large numbers to demonstrate peaceably that such bigotry has no place in England's green and pleasant land. To be patriotic, is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in.  It does not require you to be a xenophobe or a blinkered nationalist."

Celebrating St George's Day

As someone who loves St George, the Archbishop has long campaigned for England to have a special holiday where we can celebrate our Patron Saint and all that is great about our wonderful nation. Local school children from the Archbishop of York's Church of England Primary School are invited annually to play Kwik Cricket in the grounds of Bishopthorpe Palace to mark St George's Day. 

The Archbishop also noted the ability of sport, and in particular the performance of the English football team, to draw people together under the flag of St. George: "Previously an icon of extreme nationalists, a sign of exclusion tinged with racism, the flag of St. George instead became a unifying symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of eleven men kicking a ball around a field.

"As is often the case with cultural revolutions the change came not through a directive from the top, but from those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. In the city of Birmingham, where a good number of private taxi cabs are operated by Asian, often Muslim, men the flag of St. George became an addition to every cab. The commercialisation of the flag and its linking with a national hope which sought inclusive celebration, led to its adoption by those for whom it was previously used as a exclusionary symbol."

Three Lions - a song for unity

Dr. Sentamu was also asked whether the time had not come for a new public holiday to mark St. George's Day during the Euro '96 football tournament, with the widespread reception of the football anthem "Three Lions" leading to a brief unifying of Englishness

"This song was on the lips of children and adults alike, black, white and Asian. Coupled with the reclamation of the flag it represented an opportunity for common cause that was open to ownership by any who chose to adopt it. It represented a new form of Englishness that was multi-cultural and multi-faith but which presented, for a few brief weeks of a football tournament, a shared narrative. It is something that was again at work on the day that it was announced that the Olympics would be coming to London in 2012, a moment of national pride cruelly robbed away by the news of the bombs on London transport only hours later"

This is an extract of the Archbishop's "continuing triumphs of Englishness" lecture at the Sunday Times Literary Festival in Oxford.