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Being a Christian

by Archbishop of York - Dr. John Sentamu

For me having grown up in Uganda being Anglican has always been very important. Being Christian came first of course - I came to faith in Christ through the witness of lay people, and immediately became involved in the activities run by a very godly youth leader, Canon Peter Kigozi. My faith grew there and I was nurtured as a Christian surrounded by the liturgy, hymns, preaching and teaching, led by a Catechist - my father. 

Even then belonging to the Church gave me a keen sense of both the local and the global. Later as a vicar in South London I knew my responsibility was towards everyone in the parish, not just those who came to church. But the global dimension was always there. Church was for me a window on the wider world. The missionaries and expatriates I knew brought with them qualities of selfless commitment and devotion to duty which I admired and still admire today. They introduced me to the idea of the church as a world-wide family, in St Paul's words, 'the body of Christ', a community of people where all need each other and where everyone is of infinite worth in the sight of God. This has always chimed, for me, with the wisdom of the African proverb: 'if a tiny toe is hurting, the whole body bends low to tend it'. The worldwide Anglican Communion is this kind of community today.

Our Anglican heritage is enriched and in many ways defined by the Book of Common Prayer, assembled in 1549 by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The notion of 'common' worship is important to me. The prayers of the faithful are not individualistic or self-indulgent - they are rooted in Holy Scripture and they rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit to make them live. The Prayer Book itself commits the church to engaging creatively with various times, seasons, and cultures, so it is right that people should worship in 'such a tongue as the people understandeth.' So the wide range of Anglican liturgies used around the world are still 'common prayer'. 

Essential to Anglicanism is a sense of magnanimity/'moderation' - a holding together, often in creative tension, of different emphases or points of view, but always in a spirit of charity and appreciative enquiry. 

In our theology and lived Christian experience revelation and reason are set side by side. Because of God's gracious invitation for 'all sorts and conditions' of men, women and children to come and participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in our spirituality personal devotion and corporate expression are equally vital. In our church structures we prize the self-governing nature of provinces or national churches whilst at the same time treasuring both the level of mutual accountability and support we share, and the leadership exercised by bishops in council with clergy and laity. 

We regard it as our calling to engage both with the individual and the corporate, and with the material and the political. As my friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, he wondered which Bible people were reading if they thought religion and politics didn't mix. In fact our Anglican heritage demands of us a particular sense of responsibility, a critical, and at times prophetic solidarity, variously expressed in different contexts, with the political and constitutional life of the nation in which we live. In Cranmer's Prayer Book this is expressed in our regular prayers for Her Majesty the Queen and all those in authority. 

With the tensions facing us in the church and in the world today we should rejoice in God's call to us, both in our diversity and in our common life, to remember our primary responsibility 'together to make Christ visible' in word and deed. Central to our Anglican calling are what we call the 'five marks of mission' which define our calling: 

To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom 

To teach, baptise, and nurture new believers 

To respond to human need by loving service 

To seek to transform unjust structures of society 

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation

To sustain the life of the earth.

Of course many other church traditions would agree with these priorities. Distinctive about the Anglican family of churches is what is known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888): the four reference points of Anglicanism, namely the Holy Scriptures, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, the two Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion, and the historic episcopate. It would have been good if a fifth had been included: ' lived Christlike experience in his Body, the Church, and in his world.' I am grateful for the Anglican family's apostolic, catholic, evangelical, and reformed tradition which in its local and international expressions is a spiritual home for so many people. Families often don't eat together these days. By contrast the Anglican family must continue to be one which gathers round the table for conversation, for generous and attentive listening, even at times for argument, but above all for fellowship in shared bread and wine. In doing we seek to look in two directions at the same time: towards God, worshipping him, and towards the world, infecting it with his goodness.

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