by Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
Dr Rowan Williams, in his final New Year Message as Archbishop of Canterbury, pays tribute to people whose unsung efforts and sacrificial generosity help to transform lives and build communities.
Whenever I make a broadcast like this one, I’m acutely aware of the gap between what I’m seeing here and what you’re looking at, at home. You see me now sitting quietly in my study. What I’m seeing is a small crowd of wonderfully expert and efficient technicians doing the filming, meticulously checking the pictures and the sound. What we see happening is only a small part of what’s going on in order to make it happen.
And this last year we had a chance to notice this, for once, in a very vivid way. The extraordinary events of the Olympics and Paralympics last summer provided an unforgettable spectacle. But everyone who visited the Olympic site or watched the broadcasts will have been made aware of the army of volunteers who cheerfully gave up their free time and worked away, without complaint, all hours of the day and night to make these great events happen. They were the key people who translated the Olympic vision into reality for the rest of us.
It ought to make us think a bit harder about all the other folk who quietly, often invisibly, turn vision into reality and just make things happen – especially volunteers. Here at the Robes project, over twenty local churches are combining to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London. Religion here isn’t a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it’s a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. So let’s recognise this steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together in this country and indeed worldwide.
It’s all based on one vision – to make our society, our whole world, work for everyone, not just the comfortable and well off. And it’s a vision that sometimes seems to need Olympic levels of patient hard work and dedication. If you have the good fortune to live in a community where things seem to be working well the chances are that if you slip backstage you’ll find an army of cheerful people making the wheels go round – and don’t forget just what a huge percentage of them come from the churches and other faith groups.
How very good that people like that are there for us, we can say – but as soon as we’ve said that, we should be prompted to ask the tougher question: what can I do to join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication? There’ll be those who have time and skill and strength to offer; there’ll be those who have less of these, but can support in prayer and goodwill.
And as we think about this silent groundswell, perhaps our minds can begin to open up to the deepest secret of all – the trust that the entire universe is held together by the quiet, unfailing generosity of God. What we see and grasp isn’t the whole story – but just occasionally we can get a glimpse. I hope there will be lots of joyful glimpses like that for you in the year ahead.
Every blessing and happiness for the coming year.