Do not tell me to stay out of politics as it affects all of our communities, says Archbishop of York

The Archbishop of York has rebuffed calls for the Church to stay out of politics, as he believes Christianity has an important role to play in giving people who are struggling hope.

Last week, Tory MP Miriam Cates said the Church should “stop interfering in politics” during a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference.

However, Stephen Cottrell believes the Tory MP’s comments were misguided. He said: “I mean her no ill will but to say stay out of politics is a bit like saying stay out of life. Politics is life. If you’re a single mum, struggling to make ends meet for your kids and you can’t buy them a new pair of shoes, is that politics? Yes, it is.”

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Archbishop Cottrell says it isn’t about political point scoring and that the Church has a unique vantage point when it comes to seeing the impact of government policy on communities.

Archbishop Stephen Cottrell launches the Faith in the North project at Dewsbury Minster. PIC: Tony Johnson.Archbishop Stephen Cottrell launches the Faith in the North project at Dewsbury Minster. PIC: Tony Johnson.
Archbishop Stephen Cottrell launches the Faith in the North project at Dewsbury Minster. PIC: Tony Johnson.

“We, the Church, are present in every community across the North,” he said. “We’re the only people present across every community. We see the impact of Government policies.”

Archbishop Cottrell added: “I don’t have the answers. But do not tell me that I live in this little box called Sunday morning, praying to my god as if it’s some sort of private thing. It’s not.”

The Archbishop of York visited Dewsbury Minster to launch the new Faith in the North project on St Paulinus Day. Faith in the North looks to help churches, dioceses and cathedrals better connect with communities across the region.

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The cancellation of the Manchester leg of HS2 is another example of the North losing out, according to the Archbishop of York.

Archbishop Cottrell said he was “distressed” by the announcement to cut HS2 while acknowledging that the project could have been better conceived.

Archbishop Cottrell has been encouraged by moves towards greater devolution of government but says “there’s a lot more to be worked on”.

The Archbishop of York also called for spiritual levelling up in the region.

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He said: “The North is a place which has been neglected in public policy, where the discrepancies of wealth and opportunity are extreme. Where there’s an even great need for us to bring a narrative of hope, which can raise people’s expectations, help people fulfil their potential.

“It’s not that there isn’t a need and poverty and deprivation in the South, of course there is. But in some of the large Northern conurbations and in some places in the North it’s at much higher levels and there is plainly much greater need.”

Church numbers have dwindled over the years and the Faith in the North project aims to give new energy to getting people out and spreading the word of the gospel.

However, Archbishop Cottrell says that the best way to grow the Church is by not worrying about it.

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He told The Yorkshire Post: “We can’t make people want to come to church and I don’t want to make people come to church. I long for more people to come.

"What I have to focus on is presenting a lively, joyful, compelling vision of what it is to live your life in Christ. That’s what we’re going to be focusing on.

“We’re going to be focusing on telling the story in a beautiful, compelling way that makes sense to people and they want to be a part of it. Then I think the church will grow.

“It’s the old adage that the best way to grow a plant is not to pull it up every few days to check that the roots are growing. Nurture those roots and trust that in due season it will grow and bear fruit.

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"Ironically I think the best way to help the church grow is to not worry about it. Worry about whether you are being faithful to the work of living and sharing this story in a way that makes a difference in this world and then people will see it and be deeply drawn to it.”

Faith in the North hopes to better connect churches across the region with schools so that children are not only taught about the Lord’s Prayer but also get a better understanding of stories about local saints.

“We’ve actually got a meeting in December of all the directors of education across the North for Church Schools, which amounts to thousands of schools,” Archbishop Cottrell said. “We will be beginning to share with them our ideas, hopes and some of the resources that are beginning to be developed, this is all at a very early stage.”

The project is also seeking to add capacity to and revitalise the Church in the North and it will be a large focus of the Archbishop’s over the next five years.

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Prior to hosting the launch event, the Archbishop of York joined in morning prayer at Wakefield Cathedral. He then walked from Christ Church South Ossett to Dewsbury Minster, calling in at Orchard Park Primary Academy to lead a school assembly and blessing the outreach ministry of Destination 211 Bus along the way.

Rev Neil Walpole, associate priest Dewsbury Team Parish, said: “Destination 211 bus ministry reaches out to communities that struggle from high deprivation with the love of Jesus. It provides a warm space and a listening ear for the communitry in winter as well as offering emergency food.”

He added: “This is an important and practical outreach especially to Chickenley which no longer has a church building nearby. Time and time again we see children sprint down the hill with parents following to join us for drinks, cakes, conversations and to hear the good news of Jesus.”