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Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message - 2000

Posted on: January 4, 2000 10:01 AM
Related Categories: Abp Carey, England, St Pauls Cathedral

Recorded at St Paul's Cathedral, London. Broadcast on BBC1, 12.05pm, Saturday 1 January 2000

There's been a place of worship on this site since Roman times. St Paul's can boast it has celebrated a millennium before.

This is a Cathedral of history and heroes. Here, the lives of so many famous figures are commemorated.

There's Alexander Fleming - who discovered penicillin; Florence Nightingale; Field Marshall Montgomery, and, with perhaps the grandest monument of all, that great sea hero - Admiral Horatio Nelson ...

Recently we've been inundated with polls on the heroes of our day. There's the man or woman of the year; the face of a generation; Muhammad Ali is the sports personality of the century. William Shakespeare is said to be "man of the millennium" . . . Each era throws up new heroes - people who seem to stand head and shoulders above the crowd.

One of my heroes was a man called Jack Titterton. He was a burly toolmaker at Ford's Dagenham plant, not far from where I grew up. Of course, you've never heard of Jack ... but I can never forget him. He never quite made it to the cover of Hello! magazine, but his love of life and his robust faith changed the course of my life.

Many of the most heroic figures in our world are entirely unknown - people who never achieve fame or fortune, but whose influence may be far greater in the long run.

I recently came across a small church in Hove which, with only 20 people to start with, raised £2m and converted half their buildings into a hostel for homeless people.

Derek Phillips' young daughter Demelza died of cancer, and this unassuming man went on to found a special home near Rochester - where they care for terminally ill children.

Or maybe you've heard of the Jubilee 2000 campaign aiming to mark the millennium by cancelling the debts of the world's poorest countries.

This movement of ordinary people has already wiped out $100bn of those debts ... a mighty achievement considering the idea came from Bill Peters and Martin Dent, two retired gentlemen who no-one's ever heard of!

2000 years ago Jesus Christ himself was an unsung hero. Not an icon by modern standards, he didn't sell anything, he wasn't a sex symbol or a sports star. He wasn't interested in column inches for himself. At the time, no-one realised that here was a person who would change human destiny. Someone who really would stop all the clocks.

Recent visitors to St Paul's have been intrigued by this striking modern icon of Christ. Look closely at the detail and you'll realise it's actually made up of the faces of thousands of unknown, ordinary people.

I see it as a symbol of the way that each act of generosity and selflessness continues to signal the presence of Jesus Christ in history.

Someone once said that history is written by the victors. But I believe God keeps an alternative record, a chronicle of the unsung heroes of history ... nurses and teachers, aid workers, those campaigning for peace and justice, environmentalists, people caring for sick relatives - those who may not look for special status but anonymously contribute to our common good. It is through the quiet acts of kindness and mercy conducted by often unknown people that the course of history is changed.

It was changed for ever by the extraordinary life of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that the face of Jesus which continues to look with love on us all will inspire us to follow him into the new Millennium.

A very happy new year.