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'I Love Scotland'

'I Love Scotland'

Wednesday January 22

Thomas Baldwin hears about the Archbishop of York's long-standing passion for social justice - and enthusiasm for Scotland


The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and I have got ten minutes on a somewhat scratchy phone line, ostensibly to allow him to plug his new book, Wake Up to Advent!

That will have to wait though, because first he has to enthuse about Scotland. He is already talking as he comes on the line. “Wonderful, I love Scotland, we go to Scotland on holiday. We go to church near Auchterarder. I don’t look for an Anglican church, I just go for the nearest one, and most of them are Church of Scotland. I’ve heard some amazing, powerful sermons.”

I haven’t yet said ‘hello’. Later the Archbishop will announce that he’s retiring to near Scotland next summer, talk of his friendships with the Church of Scotland delegation in the interdenominational conversations between the Churches of England and Scotland, and recall two Scots who had a major impact on his upbringing in Uganda.

But first, the book. It’s primarily a series of daily reflections designed for Christians to follow through Advent 2019, but there’s a sense that Sentamu has his eye is on a much bigger picture.

Perhaps not surprisingly from an Archbishop who has always been politically engaged and outspoken, particularly on issues of social justice, it speaks to the political situation (although obviously it was written long before we knew there would be a general election in December, and this conversation takes place before the announcement), to poverty and inequality, and to the level of disrespect in public discourse.

It’s a call to love each other as God loves us, but also to put that love into action – at both personal and societal levels.

“Yes,” he says, when I put this to him. “It applies to politics, to family life and the global village.

“People are sleepwalking down a very dangerous, a very bad route. We’re all on this journey, this pilgrimage, but we’re often not caring, not looking around to see where we could help, to become neighbours to those who are poor, to be kind or transformative.

“We are so rich as a nation. Nobody should go hungry in the night, nobody should sleep rough. Why can’t we achieve this?”

He goes on to express his frustration that the Living Wage – recommended by a commission that he chaired – has not been implemented, that the NHS requires investment, and that ‘we shy away from fair taxation’ – “Those who have much should pay much.”

He is also concerned about the bitterness of the divisions in the country, and the angry and abusive nature of much of the debate. “You can disagree, but please have some sort of respect, begin to believe that they are your brothers and sisters and treat them like that.

“God has made us his friends, and we should try to be friends with one another.”

Speaking of which, how does he feel about the current relationships between the Churches of England and Scotland, following on from the signing of the Columba Declaration in 2016?

“I lead a delegation from the Church of England. We have been having this conversation for over four years, and we have become friends [with the Church of Scotland delegation], and I am hoping that the relationship between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England will become as warm as with anybody. I am very glad that we are moving forward much faster.”

It’s here that the conversation veers back to his affection for Scotland in general, for which he has personal reasons dating back to his upbringing as one of 13 children in Uganda. In fact, without one particular Scot, he would never have received the education which ultimately led him to where he is now. “When I had finished my O-levels, my father said to me that I shouldn’t go and do A-levels, as the money was needed to get my younger brother to the same level. So I was going to join a teacher training college and become a primary school teacher.

“A Scottish surgeon called Mr Shepherd asked me why I was looking so sad and withdrawn, and I told him ‘I have to say goodbye, I am going to be training in a college 50 miles away’. He said ‘I’ll pay for your school fees’.”

Sentamu, who turned 70 in 2019, retires – or rather, he says, ‘I’m being retired’ – on June 7 this year, and says that he and his wife, Margaret, plan to move ‘near the Borders’. He says he feels his relationship with Scotland ‘has been one of friendship’.


An abridged version of this story first appeared in January's Life and Work. Download or subscribe here.