Archbishop Rowan Williams delivers final new year message

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Media captionThe Archbishop of Canterbury delivers his final new year message

The Archbishop of Canterbury has paid tribute to unsung volunteers in his final new year message.

The Most Reverend Rowan Williams said the success of the Olympics volunteers should serve as a reminder of those who "often invisibly" make things happen.

He said there was a "steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together", in his BBC message.

People should ask "what can I do to join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication?" the archbishop said.

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, is to take over the Church of England's top role in March.

'Olympic vision'

In his recorded message, the 11th since he took office in 2002, Dr Williams said: "The extraordinary events of the Olympics and Paralympics last summer provided an unforgettable spectacle.

"But everyone who visited the Olympic site or watched the broadcasts will have been made aware of the army of volunteers who cheerfully gave up their free time and worked away, without complaint, all hours of the day and night to make these great events happen.

Image caption Dr Williams has already delivered his final sermon at Canterbury Cathedral

"They were the key people who translated the Olympic vision into reality for the rest of us.

"It ought to make us think a bit harder about all the other folk who quietly, often invisibly, turn vision into reality and just make things happen - especially volunteers."

Dr Williams referred to the "Robes" project, where more than 20 local churches combined to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London.

"Religion here isn't a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it's a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated," he said.

"So let's recognise this steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together in this country and indeed worldwide.

"It's all based on one vision - to make our society, our whole world, work for everyone, not just the comfortable and well off.

"And it's a vision that sometimes seems to need Olympic levels of patient hard work and dedication."

'Silent groundswell'

He said volunteers from churches and other faith groups made up a huge percentage of the "army of cheerful people making the wheels go round".

"How very good that people like that are there for us, we can say - but as soon as we've said that, we should be prompted to ask the tougher question: what can I do to join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication?" he added.

"There'll be those who have time and skill and strength to offer; there'll be those who have less of these, but can support in prayer and goodwill."

He said that thinking about this "silent groundswell" should open up minds to the "deepest secret of all - the trust that the entire universe is held together by the quiet, unfailing generosity of God".

Dr Williams is to take up a new post as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and will also serve as chairman of the board of trustees at Christian Aid, the international development agency.

In his Christmas message, Dr Williams, 62, acknowledged that a recent vote not to allow women bishops in the Church had damaged its credibility.

However, he said that according to recent census results, 59% of people still identified themselves as Christian, and believers should not lose heart.

The archbishop's message will be broadcast at 12:15 GMT on BBC One and at 17:25 on BBC Two.

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