Saturday, April 04, 2009

Englishness – the Church of England speaks

Cranmer is more than a little envious of Ruth Gledhill. She sits in her garden on this beautiful spring day drinking chilled white wine, while her soul imbibes one of the finest sermons on Englishness ever penned by a bishop of the church, and she gets paid for it.

Dr Sentamu’s speech doubtless comes, in part, as a response to the criticism he received for allegedly greeting the BNP’s ‘What would Jesus do?’ campaign with silence. One might have hoped such words might have come from the Archbishop of Canterbury. But he is doubtless occupied with much more important matters. With the premature retirement of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, perhaps the Archbishop of York is now Cranmer’s favourite to succeed Dr Williams to lead the Church of England. But it is curious, as many have pointed out, that it takes a Ugandan-born archbishop to define what the English have largely ceased to articulate, to value, or to promote. The speech is reproduced in its entirety, with thanks and blessings to Mrs Gledhill:

Englishness, by the Archbishop of York

Looking in From the Outside

A man looking in from afar wrote the following of the people who dwell in these lands:

“There are four kinds of people in the UK –

First, there were the Scots who kept the Sabbath - and everything else they could lay their hands on;

Then there were the Welsh - who prayed on their knees and their neighbours;

Thirdly there were the Irish who never knew what they wanted - but were willing to fight for it anyway.

Lastly there were the English who considered themselves self-made men, - thus relieving the Almighty of a terrible responsibility.”

This, like so many descriptions of what it is to be English, was written by someone from outside. Legend has it that it was a Frenchman, in this case. There are many books about the English – by the French, Australians, Americans, Scots, Irish, Germans, Indians. All of them attempting, with exasperation, or anger, or affection, but mostly with a kind of bemusement, to try and capture the various contradictions of what constitutes Englishness.

The Frenchman who describes the English as ‘self-made men, pleased to relieve the Almighty of a terrible responsibility’, describes their arrogance. It is interesting that as far back as the 5th century in the early years of the growth of Christianity in this country, some of the English adopted a particularly characteristic heresy: Pelagianism, whose central theme is that human beings have all the power we need, to will and to do what is spiritually good. In other words – we can make ourselves perfect and we don't depend on God's grace. You can see why it might have been attractive to the English!

But paradoxically, though the English might quite like the description of being self-made, and might in fact privately think they’d done a pretty good job, they would be the last to say so publicly. They would be much more likely to say – “Well, I may be self-made, but I’ve made a bit of a botch of it, as you can see.” For alongside the arrogance which many people see in the English, there is also a much stronger characteristic of self-deprecation.

Self-deprecation requires two things for it to work: a sense of self-security that allows you to laugh at yourself whilst inviting others to do the same, and a lightness of touch that enables the joke to be made without any sense of making a crass admission inappropriately.

A wonderful example of this is found in the songs of those excellent musicians Flanders and Swann the wonderful comic duo who penned “A Song of Patriotic Prejudice". I hope I will be forgiven for reading rather than singing their words:

“All the world over each nation’s the same
They’ve simply no notion of playing the game:
They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won
And they practise beforehand which spoils all the fun.
The English, the English, the English are best -
I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest.”

To which I would probably add the following verse:

“And then what happens when we win?
We force other nations, tribes and tongues
to hear all about it again and again.
Just think of all those endless clips
Of our triumphant World Cup team in 1966”

Flanders’ and Swann’s parody was funny, because it was the opposite of Englishness. Boasting was out, because self-confidence was in. It is perhaps a sign of our faltering self-confidence in what it means to be English that such a song written today might well be seized upon by members of fascist organisations who display more than most the insecurity that underlies any present consideration of Englishness or more precisely what it means to be English.

Trying to define what it means to be English usually ends up with a list.

Be it a list of virtues or a list of characteristics, many of those who have attempted a definition of Englishness end up with a list that would tend to include: honour and duty, humour and irony, and perhaps most of all fair play and tolerance, a particular characteristic of which I have more to say later.

In her book “Watching the English” Kate Fox concludes her amusing consideration of Englishness with a list of characteristics that includes: humour, moderation, hypocrisy, class–consciousness, fair-play, courtesy and modesty. At the heart of Fox’s analysis is what she refers to as “dis-ease” – the social awkwardness that Fox describes as shorthand for the “chronic social inhibitions and handicaps” that affect the English.

In the case of Jeremy Paxman, his book “The English A Portrait of a People”, concludes with an altogether shorter list where he declares that for the current generation Englishness is “modest, individualistic, ironic, and solipsistic.”

My own list, if my thoughts on the defining characteristics of Englishness were to be reduced to a list, could be summed up, in no particular order, as: “fraternity, law, liberty, landscape, language, magnanimity, monarchy, a thirst for knowledge, and a reverence for titles and status. But along with these I would also add, an ability to cope and not make a fuss.”

I think this last quality is shown in a letter which I first heard read by the evangelist J John at his ‘Just Ten’ presentation in Birmingham in 2004. It’s a letter from a first year student at Balliol, doing PPE, writing to her parents back in Surbiton.

Mr and Mrs Smythe are very excited when the longed-for letter finally arrives through the letter box of number 12a Laburnum Avenue, and they hurry to read it. This is what they read:

Dear Mum & Dad,

Sorry I haven’t written before, but things have been pretty hectic here.

I’m OK now that my skull fracture‘s healing. It was a pity my room caught fire, but luckily a guy who was hanging about on the street outside saw the fire in my room and picked me up after I jumped and took me to the hospital. When they’d patched me up, he kindly let me stay in his basement studio flat. It's sort of small, but cute. And, to cut a long story short, I stayed there. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that we’re planning to get married. We haven't set the exact date yet but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show. Yes, Mum & Dad, I'm pregnant! I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and really love it.

The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has a minor infection, which I carelessly caught from him. I know, however, that you will welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind and although not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a different ethnic group and religion than ours, I know that you’re very welcoming and that won’t bother you.

Your loving daughter, Emily.

Mrs Smythe bursts into tears and wails “We must go and rescue her from that terrible layabout and bring her home. But, oh how are we going to face the neighbours! We were so proud of our little girl going to university – the first in our family!”

Mr Smyth is not at his best when he wife cries, so he goes down to his shed for a think.

In a few minutes he returns. “Now, Mavis, I’ve been thinking. We’ve got to bear up. We’re English! We can’t let this beat us. We must keep up appearances. Let’s have a nice cup of tea while you read the letter to me again and we’ll see what can be done.”

They sit down opposite each other with their tea, and Mrs Smythe reads the letter again with a trembling voice. When she gets to the bottom of the page she bursts into tears again.

“Wait a bit, dear”, says Mr Smythe, “there’s a bit on the other side”. “Oh no!” wails Mrs Smythe. “You read it, I can’t bear to hear any more”

Mr Smythe takes the letter and reads:

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no fire. I did not have a fractured skull. I was not in the hospital, am not pregnant, I am not infected and there is no boyfriend in my life.

However, I have just failed my first term Philosophy, Politics and Economics and I wanted you to see these marks in their proper perspective!

I’d like to take a little time now, to try to get a proper perspective on the English. If we are to consider what it means to be English today, it is necessary first to consider briefly how Englishness came about and how it has developed before considering the present situation. But, as this is the Sunday Times Literary Festival, I am assuming that you will all know the History of English Literature in depth. So I will not be singing to the choir about that – given the time at my disposal, but will rather remind us all of the following realities of Englishness.

England’s Debt to Christianity

Historically, Christianity has been at the heart of the history of this nation. British history, customs and ethos have been gradually shaped by the Christian faith.

You could say that the alliance of church and state first began under Constantine, who in 306 was proclaimed emperor by his troops in York, on the death of his father. Constantine converted to Christianity and promised an end to the persecution of the Church.

There was an organised church in these lands by the 4th Century, which was revived through the missions of Augustine in Canterbury at the end of the 6th Century and then by Paulinus who came to assist him, before going north to York in 625.

In the 8th Century, the Venerable Bede, the father of English history, wrote not only of how the English were converted to Christianity, but how the Christian Gospel played a major social and civilising role in this country by uniting a group of warring tribes and conferring English nationhood upon them.

A recent correspondent to The Times suggested that, like it or not, Englishness has its roots in the Christian religion.

“Consider our national anthem beginning with the word 'God';” he wrote. “Consider the English flag: designed using the Christian cross. Its red colour symbolising the blood of Christ shows it is not simply a cruciform by chance.

Go back a century or more and the church will be found at the centre of English village life. The definition of a city was that it had a cathedral. People were born, married and buried in a Christian setting.”

The correspondent ends by referring to those English architects, artists, explorers and scientists whose faith gave them a basis.

Whilst it has been suggested by some that virtues such as fair play, kindness and decency are part of any consideration of what it means to be English, the question as to where these virtues came from is usually overlooked.

It is my understanding that such virtues and those associated with them, which form the fabric of our society have been weaved through a period of more than 1,500 years of the Christian faith operating in and upon this society. The Christian faith has weaved the very fabric of our society, just as the oceans around the United Kingdom and Ireland have shaped the contours of Britain’s geographical identity.

Whilst it is of course true to say that such virtues of kindness to neighbour, fair play and common decency are not unique to the Christian faith, just as they are not unique to England, it is equally true to say that these virtues have become embedded into the United Kingdom’s social fabric and heritage as a result of the Christian faith and influence on society.

Perhaps one of the greatest debts that England owes to the Christian faith in terms of her heritage can be seen most noticeably in the development of the language.

So, Secondly, The English Language

Two publications have done more than any other to shape the language which we not only take for granted, but which remains the dominant lingua franca the world over.

The King James Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer have given birth to much of what English has become. Our everyday language is punctuated with quotes from the Bible: ‘Good Samaritan’, ‘prodigal’, ‘scapegoat’, ‘once and for all’, ‘salt of the earth’, ‘lost sheep’ ‘going the second mile’ and so on.

The language of the prayer book, written by Thomas Cranmer to take the services of the Church away from the Latin rite and into a common language, pervaded the English language of its time and remains an enormous influence on our current language. The Oxford dictionary of quotations contains 549 of the Prayer book’s phrases – “at death’s door”, “give up for lost”, “moveable feasts”, “the jaws of death”, “passing all understanding”, “lead a new life”, all of these take their derivation straight from Cranmer’s work and became the basis for a generation of authors whose work shaped the language we speak.

The works of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, John Bunyan and John Milton are infused with the post reformation language born of Cranmer and the Authorised version of the Bible. Words, too, which we can hear translated into wonderful music in Handel’s Messiah. And we will no doubt hear them again this Easter, and as we celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Handel’s death on 14th April.

In recent years England has received people from many other countries. Not as invaders, but as refugees, or as members of the Empire and Commonwealth who had been taught about England in their home countries, her history, her expectations, her laws, her morals, and who felt they could be at home here.

Those who were brought up as Anglicans would have felt that particularly, as the language they had learnt in the Book of Common Prayer was indeed a common language which was shared not only by the church-going public in this country, but in countries across the globe.

I want to move on in our history and bring us up to the present. However, before doing that, I want to say two things about Empire and Englishness.

Thirdly, Made in England

Growing up in Uganda as a child, there was for me a gold standard when it came to receiving gifts. My family was not particularly well off, and certainly not by English standards, but nor did we starve although there were days when I wish we had a little more.

I remember my father asking me to give thanks for a meal to be shared between our family of 13 children where there was not much food to go round. I remember offering thanks to God for His provision but also mentioning that if He had given us a bit more than what we had eaten, we would have been even more grateful.

But when it came to receiving presents there were three words that I searched for on my gift as an assurance not so much of the its expense but of its quality. And those words were “Made in England”.

Those three words carried with them to a child in the 1950s a certain guarantee that the school ruler upon which they were emblazoned was a thing that would last. And to own such a thing was a matter of pride, because in so doing you had “the best”.

Fifty years on you would be pushed to find a school ruler or much else that now proudly states it is made in England.

But there remains one area of our lives where buying English remains not only a possible avenue but also a practical one and an eminently sensible one, and that is in the area of food.

It is my own belief that we should identify those foods that can be produced locally, and urge a return to a ’Made in England’ mindset for the food we eat.

Not through some simplistic nationalism, but because of the plain sense it makes in terms of economy, sustainability and security.

Fourthly, A Loss of Vision

Alongside the loss of a manufacturing base a more serious development over the past century has been a loss of vision for the English people. Central to that loss of vision has been the loss of the British Empire, wherein England played a defining role.

I am aware that this is a controversial view. But whilst Britain had an Empire, a large merchant navy, a large manufacturing industry and commerce, and significant numbers engaged in armed forces, and an expatriate Civil Service in the colonies, it encouraged an outward-looking perspective.

As the vision for Britain became more introspective, I believe the United Kingdom became more self-absorbed. Hugh Montefiore, in his Installation Sermon as the sixth Bishop of Birmingham on 4 March 1978 said that:

"No-one can lead a fully human life unless he has a worthy aim in life. I sometimes fear that the people of this great country, having shed an Empire, have also lost a noble vision for their future. How can we rediscover our self-confidence and self-esteem as a nation? What do we really want for our beloved land? Man cannot live by bread alone, nor yet by cash alone. We need a nobler aim in life than an annual increase in take-home pay. What we need are new ideals, a new sense of self-esteem, which will unite us, energize us and unleash those excellencies of character and creativity latent within us all. I believe it is the task of the Church not so much to condemn our failures as to help towards the acceptance of common goals which uplift the heart. Certainly there are no signs these may come from any other source. Such worthy aims will not come from economics or from sociology, not from science or from politics, but from the Spirit of God welling up in the hearts of men."
(An Installation Sermon, p.20 in 'Taking Our Past Into Our Future' Hugh Montefiore, 1978, Fount Paperbacks UK).

Given our current economic turmoil there has perhaps never been a better time to re-state this question as to how England might re-discover a noble vision for the future?

From my own standpoint I believe that is vital that England must utilize the challenges posed by the current economic turmoil and in restating the questions posed by Bishop Montefiore, England must recover a sense of who she is and what she is.

There remains a deep imperative for England to understand her history if it is to understand who the English are and what they might become.

I was born in Africa but my children were born here. They would not call themselves African in the way that I might consider myself to be, but they know of their heritage and carry it with them. Not just in their blood, but also in their values and outlook, in that which they received from those who came before them. As it is with people so, it is with countries.

The Church of England, itself part of the world-wide Church, has sired churches in 166 countries. I myself benefitted from the educational work of English missionaries in my home country of Uganda. Now, as a Christian and Archbishop in England, I remind the English of what they first taught me. I am amazed that there is so little consciousness of this rich heritage.

We need to become better acquainted with this legacy, be grateful for it, rediscover its dynamic and build upon it. The spiritual wealth that made this country great is to be shared not only with present and future generations in England, but as a free gift from God to the whole of humanity.

Where once there was vision and zeal within this land, now there seems to be a malaise and apathy concerning both our purpose as a nation and our identity as a people. We may have become richer as a nation, but we have become less happy and less fulfilled. Without a common vision the various sets of competing interests borne of a rampant consumerism vie for our attention to take our eyes away from a higher purpose.

Just as the Church has had a role in forming our culture so it may yet have a role in defining our current state. The Church in many ways has to be like a midwife, bringing to birth possibilities of what is authentically very good in the English mind, not least the virtue of magnanimity. Which brings me back to the issue of magnanimity which I touched upon at the start of this address.

Fifthly, Magnanimity

Personally speaking I have a great dislike of the word tolerance and I think it does the English a great dis-service. At the root of my dislike is the sentiment that somehow by tolerating something or showing tolerance one is doing something more noble than just putting up with it.

Therefore, no fundamental change in attitude and practice is required of you. If that is what people are being asked to do in terms of migration, it is little wonder that we hear voices of unease.

At its worst tolerance rarely achieves anything beyond making the assumption that we all possess the same degree of tolerance, unaffected by our upbringing and the circles we move in. This flawed process leads to the unenviable situation where we conclude, "If I can get you to believe as little as I do and to hold it as lightly as I do, things will work out."

Rather than mere tolerance I much prefer the characteristic of magnanimity. I was raised in a large family in a village where everyone in Masooli was there for you. Ours was the path of "magnanimity", meeting the other person half-way.

For me Magnanimity is a better path than tolerance. If we are to be magnanimous in our approach, there is a chance that we can begin a relationship based on unmerited favour and acceptance.

If we simply talk of tolerance then the road to engagement, to conversation, to neighbourliness becomes that much harder.

So for me one of the continuing triumphs of Englishness lies not in its tolerance but in its magnanimity. In its ability to meet those who have come here as strangers and to turn them into neighbours. That is the test of a magnanimous land and a magnanimous people.

Sixthly, It’s Coming Home

A sign of such magnanimity came in the summer of 1996 with the arrival of the European Football Championships in England. During one of our better summers in terms of the weather a new breed of Englishness began to take root which found its climax in the 2006 world cup.

The signal for such a change in our approach to Englishness was the use of the Cross of St. George. Previously an icon of extreme nationalists, a sign of exclusion tinged with racism, the flag of St. George instead became a unifying symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of eleven men kicking a ball around a field.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, prior to his election as London Mayor, Boris Johnson wrote of this phenomenon: “It is a revolution that was born among the scaffolders and the taxi drivers and the pub owners, and then spread to the bourgeoisie to the point where the elite could no longer contain it: they had to co-opt it.”

The popular anthem for this time - Three Lions - will be familiar to many of you.

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home
Football’s coming home
It’s coming home, it’s come home,
Football’s coming home.”

This song was on the lips of children and adults alike: minority and majority ethnic groups. Coupled with the reclamation of the flag it represented an opportunity for common cause that was open to ownership by any who chose to adopt it. It represented a new form of Englishness which presented, for a few brief weeks of a football tournament, a shared narrative.

It is something that was again at work on the day that it was announced that the Olympics would be coming to London in 2012, a moment of national pride cruelly robbed away by the news of the bombs on London transport only hours later. Has the time come to make the Feast of St George, the Patron Saint of England, a Public Holiday?

Finally, My Tentative Conclusion:

Englishness is back on the agenda.

One of the consequences of the recent attacks by so called “home grown terrorists” has been to ask the question of what it means to be English? Can there be a narrative, an identity that we can all share, flexible enough to recognize the new aspects of England whilst remaining authentic enough to proudly name and recognize England’s own history?

Where there is no awareness of identity, there is a vacuum to be filled. Dissatisfaction with one’s heritage creates an opening for extremist ideologies.

Whether it be the terror of salafi-jihadism or the insidious institutional racism and bigotry of the British National Party, there are those who stand ready to fill the vacuum with a sanitised identity and twisted vision. If the silent majority are reticent in holding back from forging a new identity. When hateful and vile slogans are shouted at returning soldiers as they march through our towns, Joe and Jane public should gather in large numbers to demonstrate peaceably that such bigotry has no place in England’s green and pleasant land.

To be patriotic, is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in. It does not require you to be a xenophobe or a blinkered nationalist.

The failure to recognize and to appreciate one’s heritage is a sign of an all-round ingratitude. Ingratitude in turn breeds cynicism. As Oscar Wilde had it in Lady Windermere’s Fan, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. A cynic has no obligations, only criticisms.

The American member of the Sojourner community, Jim Wallis, on a recent visit to the UK warned: “Hope or cynicism, that’s the choice facing your society”.

Sociologists tells us that children of dual heritage, whose parents have blood from different continents running through their veins, are being born more than ever before in this country’s history. Is it not the greatest of ironies that for such children, the heritage of a parent who may be from a commonwealth country may be easier to identify or signify than the one belonging to the land into which they are born?

Some English people don’t like to say anything about their heritage, for fear of upsetting newcomers. My question to them is simple: Why do you think we came here? There is something very attractive about the United Kingdom. That is why people stay! As a boy in Uganda, I was taught by British missionaries. Just as foreigners brought the Christian Faith to England and the rest of the UK, so British foreigners handed on the baton to me, my family and my forebears. I am grateful, and I say a big thank you to all your forebears who risked their lives in coming to my country, bringing the medicine of the Gospel, health, education and good governance.
All I am doing now is to remind the English of what they taught me.

Let us recognise collectively the enormous treasure that sits in our cultural and spiritual vaults. Let’s draw upon the riches of our heritage and find a sense of purpose for those who are thrashing around for meaning and settling for second best. Let us not forego our appreciation of an English identity for fear of upset or offence to those who claim such an identity has no place in a multi-cultural society. Englishness is not diminished by newcomers who each bring with them a new strand to England’s fabric, rather Englishness is emboldened to grow anew. The truth is that an all embracing England, confident and hopeful in its own identity, is something to celebrate. Let us acknowledge and enjoy what we are.

Let us be confident in the truth behind the words of that song which is sung with such gusto at the last night of the Proms:

Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

And so,

Bring me my bow of burning gold,
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear O clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire
I shall not cease from endless fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

Let us all build for the future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


4 April 2009 at 19:10  
Anonymous Sabina said...

If the Archbishop of York isn't the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the church will fall.

4 April 2009 at 20:16  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

I found aspects of that confusing, but that probably has more to do with me than anything else. Well, that's what I will put it down to because the fact that he has said all this is truly fantastic.

In my heart of hearts, I will admit that many of the changes that seem inevitable, upset me, and I selfishly look back with a strong sense of nostalgia. But there is no gain without pain, and John Sentamu has won over my respect and admiration. He is a product of what our nation stands for, and what we all love: Through the trials and tribulations, birth and growing pains of what we are, and where we have come from, God has blessed us with John Sentamu. And that is what he is, a blessing to our nation.

4 April 2009 at 20:48  
Blogger Sackerson said...

Donne's answer to Pelagianism:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

... seems more psychologically accurate to me, than the by your bootstraps approach.

4 April 2009 at 21:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love this man. he is a true follower of Jesus.

4 April 2009 at 21:47  
Anonymous Hereward said...

So long as we have a Scottish prime minister desperate to maintain the Union on which his Parliamentary majority rests, and an EU intent on splitting England into regions, 'Englishness' will continue to go unrecognised by the powers that be.

4 April 2009 at 22:02  
Anonymous tally said...

Hereward is right.It is a political decision to erase and defame England and the English.
The English working class were slaves themselves to the british empire,now that it's all over and the aristocracy and merchant classes who sent the English abroad have gone,the English working class have been nominated to shoulder the responsibilities of Empire.

4 April 2009 at 22:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ruth Gledhill writes: Hey thanks for the mention, hope you saw my mention of you in the paper paper today. just one point, I wasn't drinking white wine.... just a plain old sober cup of tea with some lovely Belgian chocolate xxxxx

4 April 2009 at 22:25  
Anonymous Hettie said...

Some English people don’t like to say anything about their heritage, for fear of upsetting newcomers. My question to them is simple: Why do you think we came here? There is something very attractive about the United Kingdom. That is why people stay!

This is just so true. Does one really need to be a newcomer to understand this? Do most British people think newcomers only come here for the money and benefits?

4 April 2009 at 22:54  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

Perfect. This has to be one of the greatest sermons of all time.

4 April 2009 at 22:55  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Now that is what I call a speech!

4 April 2009 at 23:25  
Anonymous not a machine said...

i attended mass this morning your grace(iam not useually so dutiful) , it was in a church of at least 14th century , i looked upon the old carved chapel screens , the plaques here and there , the different stone work where a chaple had been dedicated and spliced into the knave, i realised many people had been here before me over the centuries seeking god, wanting sin absolved, trying to serve to understand.

we have moved away from a more natural order of things and lost touch with many little joys of nature and cycle.

we used to intercede now we have interruption.

for jerusalem to be built would mean people growing up and being responsible and finding the word of god and his only begotten son jesus christ.

hardly EU is it ?

on a side not your grace your article i think is the longest yet posted , but a good read none the less , your younger readers may find patriotism scary , i was happy, i think, when it was essential , but i am now told i was delusional. this is most unfair as i note no increase in happiness since being asked to put my patriotism to sleep.

5 April 2009 at 00:24  
Anonymous Preacher said...

Wonderful! God Bless You John Sentamu. AMEN.

5 April 2009 at 02:45  
OpenID britologywatch said...

Your Grace,

I confess I was wrong, in my comment on your posting on the CofE and the BNP, to say that John Sentamu talks only of Britishness, not Englishness. My criticism certainly is valid for Bishop Nazir-Ali, though.

All the same, Archbishop Sentamu does appear to be confused about the distinction between England / Englishness and Britain / Britishness, slipping seamlessly between one and the other in this sermon. For instance, at the very start of his disquisition on the "realities of Englishness", under the heading "England's Debt to Christianity", the Archbishop writes: "Historically, Christianity has been at the heart of the history of this nation. British history, customs and ethos have been gradually shaped by the Christian faith". Which is it, Archbishop: England or Britain? And which is 'the nation'?

And again, under the heading "A Loss of Vision", Sentamu writes: "a more serious development over the past century has been a loss of vision for the English people. Central to that loss of vision has been the loss of the British Empire, wherein England played a defining role. . . . As the vision for Britain became more introspective, I believe the United Kingdom became more self-absorbed". Again, which is it: England, Britain or the United Kingdom?

This uncertainty somewhat undermines the important point the Archbishop makes in this section, which is something I very much agree with: "there has perhaps never been a better time to re-state this question as to how England might re-discover a noble vision for the future? From my own standpoint I believe that it is vital that England must utilize the challenges posed by the current economic turmoil and in restating the questions posed by Bishop Montefiore, England must recover a sense of who she is and what she is".

In restating those questions, England must ask them from the standpoint of England, not Britain. Indeed, the ambiguous interdependency between that nation and that state respectively is very much present in Hugh Montefiore's sermon to which Archbishop Sentamu refers: "I sometimes fear that the people of this great country, having shed an Empire, have also lost a noble vision for their future. How can we rediscover our self-confidence and self-esteem as a nation?" What is 'this great country' and which is 'a nation': England or Britain?

This is not mere semantics but goes to the heart of the question about whether we can rediscover a sense of national identity ("England must recover a sense of who she is and what she is") and purpose in the post-imperial age. This is especially critical, as Sentamu argues that we need to draw inspiration from that very imperial past to redefine our mission (including Christian mission) and values for the present and future. But can we succeed in defining and celebrating a distinctive Englishness and vision for England if we do not disentangle the core identity of England from that of Britain, as John Sentamu appears not to be able to do? As he writes: "Some English people don’t like to say anything about their heritage, for fear of upsetting newcomers. My question to them is simple: Why do you think we came here? There is something very attractive about the United Kingdom. That is why people stay! As a boy in Uganda, I was taught by British missionaries. Just as foreigners brought the Christian Faith to England and the rest of the UK, so British foreigners handed on the baton to me, my family and my forebears. . . . All I am doing now is to remind the English of what they taught me". All very fine stuff. But who in fact taught him his faith: the English or the British? And which country is it that foreigners come to and like so much: England or the UK?

As I say, the distinction is far from semantic, as we are living in a political and cultural climate in which England and Englishness are very much being suppressed in favour of Britain and Britishness, and a re-telling of the whole narrative of English history, values and identity is being made as that of Britain. Without defining and affirming an Englishness distinct from Britishness, there will be no English future to build for, the hope for which Archbishop Sentamu expresses at the end of his sermon. Just as he juxtaposes the traditional British patriotic hymn of 'Land of Hope and Glory' with the English hymn of 'Jerusalem'.

So perhaps I was right in my previous comment, after all, to say that the CofE needs to work out whether it is primarily English or British in order to be in a position truly to speak for England and express an authentic vision for England - as England.

5 April 2009 at 06:07  
Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

"It is a political decision to erase and defame England and the English."

I'm English and I find that very offensive. How can you accuse the English of being so incredibly stupid as to allow that to happen in a country in which we hold the vast majority of the votes? What are you saying, that we're a nation of idiots?

5 April 2009 at 09:21  
Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

Would this man also like to tell us what it is like to be ugandan?or has he forgotten.

5 April 2009 at 09:36  
Blogger Microcosm said...

So he never worked down pit then.

5 April 2009 at 10:50  
Anonymous tally said...

neuroskeptic, until recently I would have said Yes the English are incredibly stupid idiots and lazy about the situation we find ourselves in. Where have you been?
Have you not realised that the establishment refuses to mention the words "England or English"?
That they discuss matters in Parliament that because of devolution can only be of concern to the English but they will say "this country" or "britain"
to try and confuse the English that the policies they impose are for the uk as a whole when they are not. A massive con trick perpertrated by all political parties including the bnp for their own ends.

5 April 2009 at 11:59  
Anonymous Andy said...

I am an ethnic Englishman and I see this fear of the rising English identity in every political attempt to tell the English what it is to be English.

I see the fear in the sudden support for StGeorges day events and in the sudden promotion of the English flag as something to be proud of and not a racist symbol.

Many English dont know their history because the BRITISH government dont teach it in English schools.
They dont know of our contributions to the world because the BRITISH dont teach it in our English schools. Unless to beat the English into a submissive silence with stories of our evil deeds.

Now we have BRITISH people trying to tell the English what it is to be English....what a load of crap.

I know English when i see it in the streets and i recognise not English when I see it.
English is a look, a language a dialect and a group feeling.

If your not recognised as part of that group then your not English and all your fine words and lengthy sermons will come to nothing.
I laugh at the British lackys trying to pursuade the English that you know what English is then go on to try to describe it as something vague and non destinctive. Because we English see what you are doing and it angers us more...increasing the growing sense of Englishness.

As long as the British try to tell us English what we are not then the growing sense of inequlity will grow.

My view of what is English would upset the multi cultural multi ethnic view that the British want to promote. But for me as an Englishman I recognise others of my group and only accept those who are part of my group as English.

You British can accept who the hell you like as; English-Pakistani or English-Ugandan or English-chinese..but I and a growing number of others are English.

YOU cannot define us and you cannot erase us.

5 April 2009 at 12:56  
Anonymous Andy said...

Oh the English anthem GOD save the British

The Cross of StGeorge flag and Saint was imposed over our true English saint by the Norman plantagenant kings.

StEdmund was our English patron even in the 9th century the foreign/British rulers were making attempts to erase English icons and identity.

Arthur pendragon...British not English

Bede was the first writer to write about something that already existed, Englishness so he was hardly the father of English

I would go on but why waste time on a British sermon.

5 April 2009 at 13:10  
Blogger Manfarang said...

Englishness.It's about enjoying a nice cup of tea and having a bit of crumpet!

Ethnic Englishman
What about your Irish grandmother and Welsh grandfather?
Not forgetting all those of Huguenot descent which include about a quarter of all Londoners.

5 April 2009 at 13:56  
Anonymous Andy said...

I dont have any Welsh or Scottish ancestry and Im not from London.

Englishness is about my perception....
I believe I am English,

and more importantly the perception of the English group
THEY believe I am English.

Just as Pakistani is the group perception, just as Chinese is the group perception.

I would be laughed out of a mosque if I were to claim to be Pakistani.
Pakistani is an identity which is as defineable as is Indian identity.

It isnt something as shallow as just a food or item of clothing though these make up part of the identity.
It isnt just something as universal as tolerance or fair play

All these are just attempts to make English identity something universal. Something so vague we can all be English.
Well thats fine for the English-Pakistani or English-Chinese etc
But there is still a defineable ethnic English identity, based on
ethnic English culture, innovations, language/dialect and group identity.

You can winge and whine all you want. You can undermine and describe it as something multi cultural/multi racial...but at the end of the day the ethnic English group are the ones being undermined by comments such as yours and it is comments such as yours which is fanning the flames of disquiet amongst the English.

Keep em coming

5 April 2009 at 14:24  
Blogger Manfarang said...

I'm reminded of the social anthropolgy experiment where British people were asked to look at a set of photos and say where they thought the people in the pictures came from.The participants gave all sorts of answers,Russia,France,Germany etc.
Of course the pictures were all of English people.
Just this very afternoon as I was at a book fair someone said bonjour to me.
In India there is a large group of Anglo-Indians.Some might say they are the only true Indians.There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan.The Indians in the north have more in common with people from Pakistan,food,language and race than those from the south of their country.
The Indian restaurants in England are not run by Indians.

5 April 2009 at 15:18  
Anonymous len said...

The Church of England speaks,
And I hope we hear a lot more from Dr Sentamu.
The Church of England needs to stand firmly on the Rock(which is Christ)and become a bacon of light in this ever darkening world.

5 April 2009 at 17:09  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

"Would this man also like to tell us what it is like to be ugandan?or has he forgotten."

Naughty, naughty!

5 April 2009 at 17:41  
Blogger Wyrdtimes said...

About time.

There is hope for the CofE after all.

5 April 2009 at 20:18  
Blogger daveb06 said...


for those who know I don't have to, for those that don't why bother

5 April 2009 at 20:25  
Anonymous John Knox said...

England will only do well if it is reigned by foreigners.

First it was the French.

Then it was the Dutch, glorious revolution!

It have been the Germans since.

Will Muhammed be next?

6 April 2009 at 00:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Youe Grace,

You say that: "Dr Sentamu’s speech doubtless comes, in part, as a response to the criticism (from Ekklesia) he received for allegedly greeting the BNP’s ‘What would Jesus do?’ campaign with silence."

It should be noted that Ekklesia produced a very similar call in a paper concerning St George two years ago:

It may be helpful to compare what Ekklesia said, with what the Archbishop said.

6 April 2009 at 11:19  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did the french rule England? If you mean Duke William, he was Norman, they spoke French but were not french, they were Vikings whom settled in France and were tolerated by the French as they could not be beaten militarily.

6 April 2009 at 12:36  
Blogger ZZMike said...

Beyond your excellent apologia, I would recommend some verses of your fellow countryman, Mr Rudyard Kipling, to shed no small light on the British character (of which there just may be a few left).

Mr not a machine might appreciate it, especially on the patriotism note.

In our country we have a saying, "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel", which some ill-educated people take to mean that patriotism itself is a scoundrel's work. In truth, when the scoundrel has no more arguments, nothing of substance to win over his opponent, he will resort to patriotism, or religion, or over here, claim it's "for the children".

As for the "England"/"Britain" discussion, it's one that's often misunderstood this side of the pond. For most of us, though, it's "Formerly Great Britain".

I might say, through no fault of your own, but then, you did elect them.

6 April 2009 at 21:13  
Anonymous Andy said...

I'm reminded of the social anthropolgy experiment where British people were asked to look at a set of photos and say where they thought the people in the pictures came from.The participants gave all sorts of answers,Russia,France,Germany etc.
Of course the pictures were all of English people.......

where British people were asked to look at photographs?

Now MANFARANG considers Englishness something that the British decide and that our identity is based on looks alone....I wonder how many other ethnic groups would fall at the same hurdle?

Indian? Pakistani? Somalian?

Ethnicity is something more then just a racial charatoristic for many ethnic peoples.
MANFARANGs attempts to undermine Englishness is the type of attitude which has led to the growing fear of the ethnic English regaining their sense of who they are and developing an exclusive identity that wont allow all and sundry to claim membership

7 April 2009 at 23:41  
Anonymous sydneysider said...

Even poms i.e the white and pink skinned variety are entitled to a sense of identity and have a right to practise and foster their cultural rituals .As your Archbishop said this brand of Englishness is very appealing,and rather than stamp it out there should be a huge revival,as it makes for better television down here.So keep at it,don't lose it,and good luck with the fight!

8 April 2009 at 16:38  
Anonymous Andy said...

Well said Sydneysider

Too many fear the rise of ethnic English identity so oppose its existence (BBC programmes like 100%English, books like Stephen Oppenhiemers, policies like devolution for Scotland and Wales but not for England)

All this does is anger the ethnic English and speed forward the resulting backlash that this politically correct and politically corrupt British government are trying not to let happen.

An insecure people will strike out while a people secure in their identity and rights are content to live with others.

Promotion of our ethnic identity would be a better way to deal with the English....MANFARANG and his ilk are strengthening our sense of Englishness through their attempts to undermine and mock.

9 April 2009 at 10:56  
Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

tally: Well, then we don't deserve an identity do we?

Isn't it funny how in general the only English people who talk about Englishness - are embarrasments to the English? Maybe that's what Englishness is all about?

12 April 2009 at 09:29  

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