It's a year already since Dr John Sentamu knocked on the Minster doors, ahead of the inauguration service that would make him Archbishop of York. The only difference this year, he joked in an exclusive interview on BBC Radio York's Breakfast Show, is "it isn’t too cold. Last year it was ever so cold and perishing."
|Dr Sentamu's peace vigil|
But, of course, in many ways it's very different. In global terms, many lives have been lost through the Middle East conflict, something of great concern to the Archbishop, who undertook a week-long peace vigil inside York Minster during August.
“It was one of those moments when people were feeling quite helpless – they asked, what can we do? I met a lot of people during that week... 8,000 joined me in prayers and tens of thousands of pounds were raised to help, in particular, children suffering in the Middle East. I was very humbled by that week, and even though I was only drinking water, when it came to the end, I didn’t feel hungry.
“The reason I fasted is that the war between the Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, has been going on longer than I’ve lived on this earth and I’m 57. It began in 1948 and it’s not stopped; we’ve still not managed to resolve that problem. I see it as a global difficulty – citizens of this earth have a responsibility to say ‘we really should make peace’, because if it continues to go on and on and on, we'll find ourselves engulfed in it, whether we like it or not."
|"Citizens of this earth have a responsibility to say ‘we really should make peace’"|
|Dr John Sentamu|
It's been a year when religious issues have very much come to the fore, and the Archbishop has chosen to speak out on many of those issues, including the Muslim veil. His stand on the matter, he says, is that while people are free to wear what they want to wear, they have to consider how they'll be perceived in the current climate:
“From my study of the Koran, there is no Islamic law which requires women to wear the veil – it requires them to dress modestly. They have to ask themselves 'Is it modest? Is it safe? and What kind of image of Islam am I portraying?' Thirty years ago, women wearing a veil wouldn’t have invited comment. But now, people are so suspicious and don’t feel at ease with it. So yes, everybody is at liberty to wear what they want... but just ask yourself whenever you’re doing this ‘what kind of image are you portraying to anybody?’. That’s quite important.
Close to home
While issues of national and international importance are of concern to the Archbishop, he's continued to keep a close eye on developments closer to home:
"When British Sugar, Nestle and Norwich Union announced they'd be making redundancies, I thought 'people are going to be facing this christmas without jobs'. And when you lose jobs they’re not easy to get back. So I’ve written and I’m hoping those three companies will be very serious about those people who’ve lost their jobs. My heart really goes out to them."
And it's not just York that the Archbishop has been keeping in close contact with. Of the area's 24 deaneries, he's managed to visit 21 in the last year. For the Archbishop, that kind of proximity to people is hugely important:
"The Christian faith for me is not only about loving God, it's about loving my neighbour as I love myself. Because if that actually happened, we’d end up with a different world."
Sorry mate, it ain't like that!
Asked what he makes of claims made by the press that he's the Archbishop of Canterbury in waiting, Dr Sentamu protests vehemently:
"When we meet, when we talk, when we go out taking services and preaching, I couldn’t have a better colleague than him. And we’re such a formidable pair. And I think what’s going on at the moment, now that the Blair-Brown thing has stopped, is that they’re trying to start a 'Sentamu-Williams' row. Well, sorry mate, it ain’t like that and it won’t work!"