Archbishop of Canterbury speaks of his admiration for victims of 'outrageous cruelty and violence' in Christmas Day sermonDr Rowan Williams also said women bishops vote has damaged ChurchBut he points to positive Census which showed 59% of people still identified themselves as ChristianIt was his final Christmas Day sermon after serving a decade in office
19:00 GMT, 25 December 2012
'Privileged': The Archbishop of Canterbury will use his last Christmas message to say how he has been inspired by meeting people who have experienced great suffering such as victims of gang violence
The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke today of how he has been inspired by meeting people who have experienced great suffering, such as victims of gang violence.
Delivering his final Christmas Day sermon from Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Rowan Williams also acknowledged how the General Synod's vote against allowing women to become bishops last month has damaged the credibility of the Church.
But he pointed out a reason to be positive in the recently published census statistics, which indicated that 59 per cent of people still identified themselves as Christian.
Dr Williams, who steps down at the end
of the month after a decade as head of the Church of England, spoke of some of the people he has had the 'privilege' to meet during
respond to outrageous cruelty and violence with a hard-won readiness to
understand and be reconciled, few if any can bring themselves to say
that all this is an illusion,' he will say.
parents who have lost a child to gang violence, the wife who has seen
her husband killed in front of her by an anti-Christian mob in India,
the woman who has struggled for years to comprehend and accept the rape
and murder of her sister, the Israeli and Palestinian friends who have
been brought together by the fact that they have lost family members in
the conflict and injustice that still racks the Holy Land – all these
are specific people I have had the privilege of meeting as Archbishop
over these 10 years.
'And in their willingness to explore the new
humanity of forgiveness and rebuilding relations, without for a moment
making light of their own or other people's nightmare suffering, or
trying to explain it away, these are the ones who make us see, who
oblige us to turn aside and look, as if at a bush burning but not
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Downbeat: Dr Williams, pictured last month showing his disappointment after the General Synod vote against allowing women bishops, said the decision had damaged the Church
Rejection: A general view of the Assembly Hall of Church House, where a vote rejected legislation introducing the first women bishops
Referring to the 2011 census, he said that faith has to mean more than just 'what public opinion decides', and Christians should not lose heart.
'We are after all, doing something rather outrageous, asking men and women to stop and look and turn around, and learn how to keep company with a figure whose outlines we often see only dimly,' he told the congregation.
Dr Williams, who is to take up the posts of Master of Magdalene College Cambridge and chairman of the board of trustees of Christian Aid, is to be replaced by former oil executive the Rt Rev Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York has celebrated Christmas Day by calling on the nation to 'feed those who hunger' and 'give shelter to the homeless'.
Positive message: The Archbishop of York has celebrated Christmas Day by calling on the nation to 'feed those who hunger' and 'give shelter to the homeless'
John Sentamu told the congregation at York Minster: 'God works through human agents to achieve his purposes.
'So let us feed those who hunger with the bread come down from heaven.
'Let us give shelter to the homeless with him who could find no room in the inn. Let us welcome him into the inn of our lives, so we might be fully alive, fully human again.'
The Archbishop – the second most senior cleric in the Church of England – invoked PD James's dystopian novel The Children Of Men to send a message of hope and the power of humanity.
He said: 'The novel ends with hope: brutality is turned into compassion, betrayal into loyalty, enmity into friendship, despair into hope, self-absorption into inter-dependence, death into life.
'How Not by Western science discovering the solution, nor by the plans and schemes of those in power.
'But it's the vulnerable who rise up and neutralise the jealousy, treachery, violence, murder, evil and the intoxication of power.'
Dr Sentamu said Christ's birth meant 'religious beliefs were translated out of words into humanity, life and spirit, out of the intellect into the simple impulses of the soul'.
He added: 'Yes. His rule is characterised by everlasting justice and righteousness, instead of the ruthless greed and exploitation which prevailed when he was born and is prevailing now in our global village.'
The Archbishop said: 'In God's eyes, the quality of our relationships is more important than the rightness of our convictions.
'Sadly, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are often bad at learning how to disagree, but we do need to remain in harmony. We must 'make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace' – as St Paul says in Ephesians 4:3.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York will tweet their sermons for the first time today to 'bring the meaning of Christmas to a new digital audience'
'If we cannot experience and demonstrate the reality of this in Christ, what have we to offer to the rest of society, with its fractured relationships'
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York tweeted their sermons for the first time today to 'bring the meaning of Christmas to a new digital audience'.
Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu – with the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby – delivered their Christmas Day messages simultaneously from their pulpits and over the micro-blogging site.
Their words will be 'live tweeted' to the UK's 10 million Twitter users as part of a campaign to reach out to social networkers across the country.
The Church of England has asked members in its 16,000 parishes to join in by tweeting snippets from services containing the hashtag #ChristmasStartsWithChrist to spread the Christian message.
A Twitter spokesman said: 'It is fantastic to see the Church of England embracing Twitter and using it to share their Christmas message with new audiences.'
Dr Williams has previously branded the site a potentially 'poisonous' and destructive tool. But he has also spoken of its power when used to do good.
The outgoing archbishop – who does not own a mobile phone and admits he struggles with 'any kind' of technology – addressed the issue earlier this month when he said it was often assumed that clergy were 'too unworldly' for social media.
But he insisted not all clergy should be assumed to be as 'dim' as he is in this area.
Twitter users were able to track the sermons at Canterbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral and York Minster by following Dr Williams (@lambethpalace), Dr Sentamu (@johnsentamu) and the Archbishop Designate, Bishop Welby (@bishopofdurham), who already has nearly 15,000 followers.
Dr Williams will stand down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of this month after a decade in office.
He will take up a new post as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge and will also serve as chairman of the board of trustees at Christian Aid, the international development agency.
Bishop Welby will be enthroned as his successor at Canterbury Cathedral in March.
'CHURCH SHOULD GLORIFY GOD', SAYS NEXT ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The next archbishop of Canterbury has admitted it is easy to be despondent but used his Christmas Day sermon to stress 'the main job of the Church is never self-preservation, but glorifying God'.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, told Durham Cathedral: “It is very easy to be despondent about the Church.
'Some speak of division and even of betrayal.
'The processes we go through are agonisingly wounding for many.
'There are profound differences of opinion about the nature of Christian truth and its place in society, about the right of an ancient tradition to dictate or even to advocate ethical values around the end of life, around marriage, around the nature of human relationships, inequality, our duty to each other.”
And the bishop said: “It is even easier to be despondent about the world.
'From the horrors of forgotten Goma in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) to the atrocity in Connecticut, and from Aleppo in Syria to tribal struggles in Burma, and in so many places between, there is the usual diet of tragedy and loss.
'Near at home we remain in the economic doldrums and seem to find a perverse pleasure in emphasising the impossibility of trusting any institution.'
But he told worshippers it was important to 'recognise that God's answer to all our despondency or triumph is to come in weakness as a child, to become utterly vulnerable'.
Bishop Welby said: 'Christians reach to the jagged edges of our society, and of the world in general.
'Food distribution, places for rough sleepers, debt counselling, credit unions, community mediation, support for ex-offenders, support for victims of crime, care for the dying, valuing those who have no economic contribution to make, or are too weak to argue for their own value.
'All this is the daily work of the church, which goes on every day and everywhere. We leak out into the world the love that God leaks into us.'
The bishop said that despite only two-thirds of people now identifying with the Christian faith, 'we would never hear the end of it' if this figure was associated with a political party.
And he said: 'The main job of the church is never self-preservation, but glorifying God.
'The moment we lose sight of that, we lose everything we are about. The same is true for us as individual Christians.'
Bishop Welby was chosen in September to succeed Rowan Williams as archbishop of Canterbury. He is expected to take up the post next year.
.VIDEO. Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas sermon
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