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Archbishop on faith stories and the future of the Church

Archbishop of York John Sentamu says the gospel message needs to be taken out of churches and lived in communities ...

Faith Stories is an inspiring new book introduced by John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. SHARON BARNARD asks him about the power of testimony and his hopes for the Church

Do we share our personal stories as often as we should?

I think testimonies are really powerful, but actions speak louder than words. God calls us all to show love in action – but quite often those simple acts of care go unnoticed.

What struck me with so many of the contributors to Faith Stories, was that these were the unsung heroes holding communities together.

It’s important that we take the time to say to people: “Wow, what you are doing is fantastic! Keep going!”

This book is a great opportunity to listen to the stories of those who are bringing positive change through their devotion to God and their humble service to others.

We started filming some of these incredible stories and putting them on my website, so others could be inspired. We put them on YouTube too.

From that, the publishers asked if we could extend the project and put it into print.

Has the UK Church lost confidence in the Gospel?

I don’t believe so. The spirit of hope and forgiveness that is embodied in the example of Jesus should be an inspiration to us all.

As Christians we have a moral responsibility to care for the poor and the vulnerable around us. I always say you can tell how healthy a society is by how it treats the most vulnerable.

The Gospel message isn’t something that should be kept inside church buildings for those that are already followers – it should be taken out and lived in our communities.

The Church of England has a presence in every single community in the country. Our mission should be to bring God’s love to others, serving them through every aspect of our lives.

We have a transformative Gospel – we should celebrate it and be thankful!

What is your hope for the Church of England and the UK Church more generally?

My hope is that the Church will keep moving forward, following God, and keep the principle of serving others at its centre.

Too often we look at the minority of issues that divide us rather than the vast majority of things that we agree on.

Do we all agree that God’s love and forgiveness has the power to transform our communities and give hope where currently there is none? Yes.

Is the Church really that divided? Is it really dying off? No, but that doesn’t sell newspapers.

When there are people in Britain who cannot afford to feed themselves and have little opportunity of finding a job that can support their families, I think it is right that we focus on addressing that.

Poverty is destroying the unity of our nation – isn’t that a more pressing concern?

In many cases, like the stories in this book, we are the hope-bringers. The servants. We need to stop beating ourselves up and have confidence in God.

The Church isn’t the buildings – it’s the people. Don’t wait for people to come through the door, get out to where the people are and live out the Gospel message.

You continue to speak out against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. What would you like to see happen there?

I passionately believe that everyone is important to God. Whether you live in Harrow or Harare, you matter. When we see injustice around us we have a responsibility, a duty if you like to stand up and say: “This is wrong”. More than that, we should be offering solutions too.

Robert Mugabe is still oppressing his people and has cut the identity of the Zimbabwean nation into tiny pieces. We should not forget that.

The people of Zimbabwe have gone through too much for us to abandon them now. We should continue to pray for renewal and stand in solidarity with them.

Maybe one day, when there is greater freedom of expression, we will see a book of Faith Stories written by the people of Zimbabwe too!

  • Faith Stories: 20 true stories of faith changing lives today, introduced by John Sentamu is published by Darton, Longman and Todd, price £8.99.

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