Archbishop talks Britishness and forgiveness

Much was, and is still, made of the fact that Sentamu, is the first person of an ethnic minority to hold a dominant position in the Church of England. The Yorker asked Dr Sentamu if he felt his appointment had paved the way for others of an ethnic minority to take other, high-profile positions.

‘Society, communities and culture take a long time to change, my hope is that my being there, will encourage all kinds of different people to see that actually the church is there for all people, not just one particular group.

‘So, I hope that I’ve been able to reach out to achieve the best, my message would be, everyone’s capable. We should look at the character of their being, not either class or colour.’

When Sentamu began his role of Archbishop, he received hate-mail, from those protesting at his appointment. He said this has now subsided somewhat:

‘That has subsided, we have not yet had, we still get some anonymous letters but we don’t get anymore with human excrement.’

QuoteSociety, communities and culture take a long time to changeQuote

Whilst these letters were still being received Sentamu publicly reached out and offered forgiveness to those who were sending them. During his well-documented sit-in in York Minister, Sentamu told us how four people travelled a hundred miles to apologise to him, something he said was ‘amazing.’

One of his first acts as Archbishop was to conduct his sit-in at York Minster, where he placed his tent by the altar and fasted for seven days. Sentamu said that he felt that extreme measures, taken by anyone, even students can work, but that the motive has to be right.

‘I was definitely bothered by the war between Lebanon and Israel, it looked to me, after two days that it was going to end in a lot of destruction, the only way I could demonstrate that was by doing was by fasting and praying. Especially as a lot of these young people affected had gone for days without food. So I was identifying myself to these people, and I think sometimes that extreme measures to get what you want, doesn’t work, but if I’m doing it for somebody else, then, it does.’

Quotethe main dominant culture is not proud of it, it’s very difficult to integrate.Quote

Sentamu is another key figure who believes that the idea of multi-culturism has become confused. Trevor Philips, Chair of the Commission for Equality recently commented to The Yorker, that he felt that the question of what makes Britishness was an issue that Gordon Brown is keen to address within his new Government. Sentamu explained why he thought Multiculturism had gone wrong, he felt:

‘A lot of effort was being put into emphasising the cultures of minorities. I used to have a saying that in the 70’s, they used to have what I call, sari’s, samosa’s and steel bands, to show multiculturism. It was so superficial it didn’t actually work. It seemed to suggest that the dominant culture, particularly in England, which is English, somehow, you know, should not be strongly emphasised.

Quote'Until that culture is vibrant and people are proud of that culture, not in a sort of negating other peoples, we’re not going to be in a very helpful place.Quote

'I happen to think that if people talk about integration, and the main dominant culture is not proud of it, it’s very difficult to integrate.’

'The English sometimes don’t know who they are, the Irish know, the Scots know, the Welsh know, but the English somehow don’t know!’

'Until that culture is vibrant and people are proud of that culture, not in a sort of negating other peoples, we’re not going to be in a very helpful place.’

So how did Sentamu feel about the suggestions for a ‘British day’? ‘I don’t think that would actually work, the Irish would like St. Patrick’s day, the Scots would be celebrating St. Andrews day, and the Welsh, St. David’s day, they all want different days, I don’t think you should have a British day. I actually think that there is now a devolution in Scotland, and will probably happen in Ireland, and is in Wales, why can’t the English have their own day?’

QuoteThe English sometimes don’t know who they are, the Irish know, the Scots know, the Welsh know, but the English somehow don’t know!Quote

'To actually assume there is something called British, I actually think British is such a huge word meaning, the four nations; Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. That’s what British is, and I don’t know if it is a melting pot in which something British pops out.'

Sentamu was born in Uganda in 1949. In 1974 he was imprisoned by the Dictator of the country and kept in prison for 90 days. He fled his native country and received a British visa where he came and studied Theology at Cambridge University. After a series of high –profile posts in and around the East Midlands Sentamu was appointment Archbishop of York (something he wished to change to Archbishop for York) in 2005. He has continued to be an outspoken critic of knife crime, drugs and worked with communities damaged by such crimes, such that of Damiola Taylor and the joint murders of Charlene Ellis and Letitia Shakespeare.