Archbishop of York, U2's Bono, Queen Rania of Jordan and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, join the "Class of 2015" during special session of the UN.
By the editor
New York came to a halt on 25th September as world leaders gathered in a special session for a high-level event, convened by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the UN General Assembly to renew commitments to achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and to set out concrete plans and practical steps for action.
That evening the Archbishop of York, the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, the Primate of Central America, Bishops from Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Southern Africa, USA and a host of lay people and clergy gathering in the Cathedral of St John the Divine to join in an act of “Recommitment and Witness” to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Organised by Ms. Hellen Grace Akwii Wangusa (The Anglican Observer and Personal Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the UN) and the staff of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, the service and a reception in the synod hall, was, as one attendee noted, “an interfaith expression of our concern for the world, its people and creation”. This theme was evident in the prayers offered by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the traditional Anglican Evensong. One prayer begged “for an end to the divisions and inequalities that scar God’s creation..” A reading of the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, the Beattitudes, was offered by Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development for the United Kingdom. A dramatic prayer was chanted in Hewbrew by Rabbi Jill Hausman from “The Actors’ Temple” and Al-Haaj Ghazi Khankan, from the American Muslim Alliance read a prayer in Arabic.
Mary’s Magnificat** was the theme of the sermon by Dr John Sentamu, Ugandan-born, now the second ranking prelate in the Church of England as Archbishop of York. In his powerful presentation the Archbishop expressed his own concerns and prayers for the world that suffers so very much. He said, “We all need to clean out the old yeast of our selfishness and greed that we may become a new batch of a reconciled humanity”, he also said “The Magnificat speaks of God calling us to radical transformation of the way we relate to each other, to the world and to God. And when all three have coalesced together will we sing and be magnificat.” The text of his full Sermon can be found below.
Among those gathered at the reception in the Diocesan Synod Hall were ecumenical guests from Roman Catholic and Protestant churches including the Revd Deborah DeWinter from the World Council of Churches. The new chairman of the UN Anglican Observer'’ Advisory Board, the Revd Dan Appleyard brought greetings to the assembly that found in its number Ambassadors and Representatives from some 23 countries. The Revd Canon Grace Kaiso was present. He is the new secretary of Conference of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA).
Preceding the service and reception, a rally was held on the steps of the massive cathedral, where clergy and laity held bright-coloured banners naming the MDGs before the passing public and tourists entering the world-famous cathedral. The banners come from St James’ Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland. Alex Baumgarten, from the Episcopal Church’s Washington office, led the gathering and invited the Most Revd John Sentamu to encourage the rally and bless the participants, as he arrived at St John the Divine.
Earlier in the day the Archbishop of York participated with a host of government officials, including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a gathering at the United Nations building looking at Education and the MDGs and signed up as member of the “Class of 2015”. Also signing up and sharing the “stage” with Dr Sentamu, were celebrities Bono (from the band U2) and Sir Bob Geldof (Live AID) as well as Queen Rania of Jordan and representatives of major companies such as Intel and Microsoft. Charity representatives included Action Aid, Comic Relief, Education International, FAWE, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision. Also present was the World Bank President Robert Zoellick, all of whom are education advocates who support “Education for All.”
Class of 2015 was a high profile opportunity, with wide media coverage, to tell people about the delivery of education by churches throughout the world and make the link between advocacy and delivery of needed resources. It will provide global leadership in the drive to achieve Education for All, led by GCE and bringing together all those committed to universal education. It will also announce commitments from governments of both rich and poor countries that will contribute to the achievement of Education for All by 2015.
At the cathedral service and in the final “Franciscan Blessing” Bishop Jefferts Schori offered these words:
May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger,
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness,
To believe that you can make a difference in this world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
Suminder Duggal and the Anglican UN Office contributed to this report
Ms. Hellen Grace Akwii Wangusa - Anglican Observer at the United Nations and Personal Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the UN
Or Martha Gardiner
Episcopal Church Centre
815 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017 USA
Phone: +1 212-716-6263
Notes to editors:
** The text of the “Magnificat” is found in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1:46-55
The full text of Archbishop Sentamu’s Sermon
Reading: Luke 1: 46-55
The Magnificat: Moral, Social, Economic Transformation
Some years ago now, during One World Week, a local primary school invited me to do some creative writing with the children on poverty and deprivation. One child began her story like this:
Once upon a time, there was a very poor family. The dad was poor, the mum was poor, the children were poor, the butler was poor, the chauffeur was poor …
I shook my head in disbelief, and proceeded to tell her of stories of real poverty from my own childhood: how all my clothes were hand-me-downs and I didn’t possess a pair of shoes until I was eighteen! With disarming innocence she asked “Did you live with your mum and dad?” “Yes”, I said. “I don’t”, she replied.
I later discovered that Lucy was a very deprived child who was in the care of the local social services.
Lacking what most of her classmates possessed she was writing out of her deep desire for a better tomorrow. I felt rebuked for priding myself on having had so few possessions as a child: My story was the real story of poverty! But was it?
The reading from Luke challenges us to question what we believe to be real: a virgin having a child and God becoming human.
But the whole emphasis in the Magnificat is on unexpected things.
Most of us like to think we understand exactly how the world works – that is everything is surfable , e-mailable, predictable, except British weather of course (not to mention the current global financial situation!)
But the words of Mary’s Magnificat shake us abruptly from our self-complacent confidence.
For Mary looks to God with the confidence that life in him gives, catching a glimpse of the future that God is shaping for his creation. What she sees contradicts every aspect of our present experience. God’s rule is depicted as topsy-turvy, values upside down where the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty.
This for me is the hope for the world, but it spells out a need for a radical turning around of us and our basic human structures. The Magnificat reminds us that God is calling us join in his great task of transforming the world. We’re not bystanders: God invites us to be part of the story in three ways.
First, it’s about moral transformation: “He has routed the proud and all their schemes” – the likes of me and my pride at growing up in childhood poverty. Pride isn’t just showing off how successful we are. Pride always rears its ugly head when we’re trying to use our own experience to out-do one another: because we’ve been to hospital so many times in the last year means that nobody else can understand suffering like we do; or because we’ve been the victim of a racist attack means that no-one else can possibly understand racism like we do.
Hope for the world lies in allowing God to tear all forms of pride from us in order that we may step fully into the shoes of others. This means letting them tell us their story before we start giving them our answers to questions they may not even be asking, and allowing ourselves to hear what they think about us.
It’s a most liberating experience for me to belong to this church family called the Anglican Communion, for it’s made up of people from every continent of the globe. We were richly reminded of this at the recent Lambeth conference in which bishops from so many different parts of the world prayed, worked and rejoiced together.
It’s like being given a glimpse of what heaven will be like. You may be surprised to hear the Lambeth Conference likened to a foretaste of heaven. Certainly if you relied for your knowledge of Lambeth on what some in the British media portrayed, you would be plunged into doom and gloom! There are still deep divisions in the Anglican Communion and we hold these before God for his healing. But it is also true that at
the Lambeth conference this year we saw signs of God’s grace, bringing resurrection life and hope. But this in itself won’t bring about the radical transformation sung by the Blessed Virgin Mary in her song: the Magnificat.
The Magnificat speaks of God calling us to radical transformation of the way we relate to each other, to the world and to God. And when all three have coalesced together will we sing and be magnificat.
We need to remember that Christ had to become human and be filled with the Holy Spirit beyond all measure, so that in him and through him, human nature might become a new creation. So that we might inherit from him the spirit of wisdom, knowledge and understanding, in place of our human tendency towards foolishness, blindness and opposition to God’s ways.
This is the new life in us which begins the process of our moral transformation and ends in always desiring the good of the other person. “For you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:7)
The Second challenge before us is one of finding a way of injecting this divine power into the veins of our society today: hope for the world is social transformation: “He brings down monarchs from their thrones, he raises on high the lowly.” Then God
who humbled himself in Christ gave the deathblow to the distorted way we look at people according to their status. He puts an end to the world’s labels and prestige.
Light breaks into our darkness when we realise that other people’s despair and fear, joy and sorrow are ours too.
If we don’t, one day we will be for ever haunted by these words of the German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller, “They came for the communists and I didn’t object, for I wasn’t a communist; they came for the gypsies, the slaves, the mentally ill, and the physically disabled and I didn’t object for I wasn’t one of them. They came for the Jews and I didn’t object for I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to object.”
The God of love, Immanuel, God-with-us, has identified himself with the whole of humanity, and we have therefore no choice but to identify with each other, especially in the fiery furnace of pain. And, as disciples of Jesus Christ, forever struggling to cope with the incomprehensible suffering of the innocent in our global village.
Back in my own country of Uganda, when something tragic happens, the women sit down on the ground and mourn. It’s always a corporate experience, because we are persons through other persons “I am because we are”. By getting together we are permitted to enter into a sad situation with a message of great joy, the assurance of the presence of Jesus with us in times of trouble. A Ugandan proverb says, “When the tiny toe is hurting, the whole body stoops down to attend to the pain of that tiny toe.”
Hope for the world in the song of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Magnificat, is Moral Transformation; Social Transformation.
Thirdly, hope for the world is by way of economic transformation. “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”. This means an end to our acquisitive society where each person is out to amass as much as they can get; it’s the beginning of interdependence, a godly society where no one dares to have too much while others have too little, where everyone must get, only to give away.
As we reflect on our future together as part of this global village, we are being invited to open our eyes to see how together we can be part of the process of the creation of a new community of Love, Peace and Justice, coming out of that ultimate reality, God.
In this vision, no-one is a spectator. We all have a responsibility for a better global order. And this can’t be created or enforced by laws, prescriptions and conventions alone. Rights without ethics can’t long endure. It demands our readiness to involve
ourselves in the struggle for human rights, responsibility, freedom, justice, peace and the good stewardship of Planet Earth. It’s a scandal if we let our different religious and cultural traditions prevent our common involvement in opposing all forms of inhumanity and working for greater humanness.
As a Christian, I know that I base my life on my understanding and experience of an Ultimate Reality, God, as seen in the face of Jesus Christ. And I draw spiritual power and hope from that in trust, in prayer and meditation, in word and silence, and social action. I don’t consider myself better than anyone else, but I trust the ancient wisdom
of the faith I hold can point the way for the future: the creation of a new community of Love, Peace and Justice. The only true principle for humanity is justice, inspired and nourished by love and true compassion.
For love wasn’t put in our hearts to stay; Love isn’t love ‘til we give it away! “God so loved the world that He gave; it’s more blessed to give than to receive”, so said our Lord.
You may know the story of an eight year-old who was picking up starfish stranded when the tide went out - and throwing them back into the sea. An old fisherman came by and couldn’t understand what the little girl was doing. So he asked, “Why are you doing that?” She said, “They are stranded. If I don’t throw them back into the water they will die.”
The fisherman said, “Little girl, do you realise that the beach goes on for miles and thousands of starfish are stranded? You can’t hope to make a difference.”
Holding one starfish in her hand she said “It makes a difference for this one.” And she threw it into the water.
We all need to clean out the old yeast of our selfishness and greed that we may become a new batch of a reconciled humanity. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society, all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible”
Become an agent of hope for the world.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mary be an agent of a moral transformation;
Be an agent of a social transformation;
Be an agent of an economic transformation.
Become what you are. A Child of God – invited to participate in the life of God.