IT IS perhaps fitting that Twitter provided the most personal tributes to the Archbishop of York after he confirmed that he will retire in June 2020 after nearly 15 years in the role.
This, after all, is the social media platform that Dr John Sentamu deployed to popular acclaim to “beseech” England’s footballers to keep their cool and composure during this summer’s World Cup or celebrate the many successes of Yorkshire’s Olympians and Paralympians.
And it is the forum which the Ugandan-born cleric, 69, used so adeptly – he has over 70,000 Twitter followers – to take the Church’s message of hope to the people in his own inimitable way.
“God bless you. You have been like a breath of fresh air to me,” posted one worshipper. “No one can go on forever but you will be missed, I love hearing you speak,” said another person. And another tweeted: “A remarkable guy. Until he got the job I didn’t (realise) there was an Archbishop of York.”
Just three out of countless tweets, they epitomise the Archbishop’s empathy with his adopted county – he had previously served in London and Birmingham – and his uncanny ability to reflect the emotions of ordinary people.
He’s not been afraid to make great gestures and gave early warning that he would be an unorthodox Archbishop when, in December 2007, he tore up his dog collar on national television in protest at the tyrant Robert Mugabe’s inhumanity in Zimbabwe – and refused to wear it again until the dictator had been deposed.
However, while Dr Sentamu, and the rest of the civilised world, had to endure 10 years before Mugabe was overthrown, it never once deterred him from his mission and work.
An unconventional – and informal – Archbishop, he continues to display newspaper photographs of Claudia Lawrence, the missing York chef, and Madeleine McCann, the toddler who vanished during a family holiday to Portugal over a decade ago, in his private chapel as he prays for them, and their families, each day.
And, while Dr Sentamu has overseen great tumult in the Church of England since his enthronement in 2005, including the consecration of the Rev Libby Lane as the Church’s first female bishop, he has become an adopted Yorkshireman like no other.
From a six-month pilgrimage, resplendent in his flat cap, to every corner of the Diocese of York to using his office – and influence – to drive forward the One Yorkshire devolution campaign in the hope that this county will elect its first mayor in 2020, he will continue with this work until he retires on June 7, 2020, three days before his 71st birthday.
Given past convention dictates that Archbishops retire by the time of their 70th birthday, Dr Sentamu had to receive special dispensation from the Queen to extend his tenureship by a year and, hopefully, facilitate a smooth transition when his successor is appointed.
He also intends to extend the work of his acclaimed Young Leaders Award Programme. “I will be retiring from my post as Archbishop of York in June 2020,” he said in a statement.
“I have decided to announce my retirement now in order to provide the Church of England with the widest possible timeframe to pray, discern with wisdom and insight and put in place a timetable for my successor and to consider fully the work they will be called to do in service to the national church, the Northern Province and the Diocese of York.
“I am deeply grateful to Her Majesty The Queen for graciously allowing me to continue as Archbishop of York until June 2020 in order to enable me to complete the work to which I have been called. I am full of joy and expectation to see all that God is doing and will be doing in this diocese and in the Northern Province over the coming months.”
And then, typically, he took to Twitter to wish his followers “every blessing”.
THE Archbishop of Canterbury has led the tributes to Dr John Sentamu and his wife Margaret.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby tweeted: “Archbishop @JohnSentamu your devotion to Christ and service to the @churchofengland is something we rejoice in with great gratitude!
“Be assured of my prayers – and those of the whole Church – for you and Margaret over the coming period of transition.”
Many believed that Dr Sentamu, a national social justice campaigner, should have been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 2012 in favour of the relatively inexperienced Mr Welby.
THE words and wisdom of an Archbishop
IT has meant every morning I think of the people of Zimbabwe. – Why the Archbishop of York refused, in protest at Robert Mugabe’s tyranny, to wear his traditional dog collar for 10 years.
WOMEN have often been the backbone of the Church, unheralded, unsung, invaluable. – Dr Sentamu on the consecration of Libby Lane at York Minster as the Church’s first female bishop.
IT’S high time those who believe in Him do a lot more than simply say ‘God’s own county’. – What Dr Sentamu said in March 2016 during his six month pilgrimae of prayer.
RACISM in all its forms of wickedness must continue to be challenged and eradicated in Stephen’s name and for the sake of us all. – The Archbishop of York on the 25th anniversary of the murder of London teenager Stehepn Lawrence.
TEAM England: I beseech you With all my heart please regain your composure and keep your cool! Sad the Referee did not go to the Review Area! But please threaten with your Ball! Let justice prevail! – Tweet posted during England’s World Cup campaign.
TODAY marks a moment of no return. The road ahead maybe bumpy but we are going to be One Yorkshire. – The Archbishop’s message at a Yorkshire Day gathering at Bishopthorpe Palace to back devolution.
WE need a lasting commitment that Universal Credit will provide people with an adequate income, so they can keep their heads above water and afford good food. – Dr Sentamu’s challenge to Ministers in The Yorkshire Post last Saturday.