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Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message - the treasure that is our fellow human beings

Posted on: January 1, 2009 1:11 PM
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Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year Message - the treasure that is our fellow human beings

On January 1st 2009 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will deliver his New Year Message on BBC One at 1.30pm and again on BBC Two at 6.55pm.

In the message, Dr Williams asks us to consider the importance placed on material wealth, to 'turn outwards' and appreciate the treasure that is our 'fellow human beings' during this time of financial crisis.

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Stained glass window Canterbury Cathedral 
Photo Credit: ACNS Rosenthal

The Archbishop recognises that people are entering the New Year with “anxiety and insecurity” and “fears about disappearing savings, lost jobs, house repossessions and worse” but sees recent months as having provided an opportunity to “think about wealth and security and about where our ‘treasure’ is”.

He encourages us to consider ‘treasure’ and question the importance placed on material wealth. “Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be. Our hearts will be in a very bad way if they are focused only the state of our finances. They’ll be healthy if they’re capable of turning outwards - looking at the real treasure that is our fellow human beings”.

Dr Williams also talks about the plight of children, who are “damaged by poverty, family instability and abuse, street violence and so much else”, noting that “one of the most damning things you could say about any society is that it’s failing its children.” He remarks that “children need to be taken seriously, not just as tomorrow’s adults but as fellow-inhabitants of the globe today”.

The full transcript of the Archbishop's New Year Message can be found below:

It’s always a relief to have a bit of space after the busyness of Christmas to relax at home and mull over the past 12 months and the hopes and possibilities of the year ahead. The prospect of this coming year, though, is one that produces a lot of anxiety and insecurity for countless people. There are fears about disappearing savings, lost jobs, house repossessions and worse. While the headlines are often about the big figures, it’s the human cost that makes it real for us.

A little before Christmas I visited a new academy in Scunthorpe named after St Lawrence. Lawrence was a Christian minister in Rome in the days when you could be arrested and executed for being a Christian, nineteen hundred years ago or so.

When he was arrested, he was told to collect all the treasures of the Church to be given up to the courts. He got together all the homeless, the orphans and the hungry that the Church looked after in the city, and presented them to his judges, saying, ‘These are the Church’s treasures.’

Like any really good school, St Lawrence’s treats its children as treasures. In the last few months we've had to think a lot about wealth and security and about where our ‘treasure’ is.

But it set me thinking - what would our life be like if we really believed that our wealth, our treasure, was our fellow-human beings? Religious faith points to a God who takes most seriously and values most extravagantly the people who often look least productive or successful- as if none of us could really be said to be doing well unless these people were secure.

And as we look around in our own country as well as worldwide, this should trigger some hard questions – whether we think of child soldiers in Africa or street children in Latin America, or of children in our midst here who are damaged by poverty, family instability and abuse, street violence and so much else. Children need to be taken seriously, not just as tomorrow’s adults but as fellow-inhabitants of the globe today, growing human beings whom we approach with respect and patience and from whom we ought to learn.

One of the most damning things you could say about any society is that it’s failing its children. That’s why I was really encouraged recently to be invited to open a project in Springfield in Birmingham - a church-based initiative supporting children and their parents from across the whole community. Here the church community took the brave decision to open up their church building for work with local families and to seek funding for further buildings and resources from the local authority. What’s more, they’ve worked throughout in close collaboration with the local mosque and have a joint programme with them for young people. There’s a community with its eye unmistakeably on its real treasure.

So what about a New Year in which we try and ask consistently about our own personal decisions and about public polices, national and international, ‘Does this feel like something that looks after our real treasure, something that keeps our real wealth safe - the lives and welfare of the youngest and most vulnerable?’

Jesus said where our treasure is, that’s where our hearts will be. Our hearts will be in a very bad way if they’re focused only on the state of our finances. They’ll be healthy if they are capable of turning outwards, looking at the real treasure that is our fellow human beings. A very happy and blessed New Year to you.