Newly confirmed Archbishop of York speaks of 'devastating impact' of pandemic in first public address

The newly confirmed Archbishop of York has spoken of the 'devastating impact' of the coronavirus pandemic on church and society as he made his first public address.

Stephen Cottrell is the new Archbishop of York
Stephen Cottrell is the new Archbishop of York

Bishop Stephen Cottrell became the city's 98th Archbishop on Thursday (July 9) in a low-key ceremony broadcast on the Church of England's website.

Speaking to members of the General Synod, who are meeting remotely today following the cancellation of the annual July group of sessions in York, Archbishop Stephen spoke about lockdown as a time when people have experienced a “stripping back of our lives”, bringing hardship but also clarity.

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He also warned that the Church has allowed itself to become “tribal and divided” and now needs to “learn again how to love one another, love the world and love God”.

His comments came in a joint presidential address, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Members are also discussing the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and joining question and answer sessions on a range of issues.

Archbishop Stephen, who was until recently Bishop of Chelmsford, spoke of his experience of recent months of lockdown.

He said: “I hugely miss our church buildings and our liturgy, just as I also miss going to the cinema and eating in restaurants, or just having a coffee; and I grieve for the fact that I was not able to say goodbye to the diocese of Chelmsford in the ways I wanted, nor am I able to hug my new grandson without donning a mask; and I cry out for the pain of all those socially distanced funerals, the thousands of people who have died alone, the baptisms, weddings and ordinations that have had to be postponed; the economic misery which is around the corner and the devastating impact of this pandemic upon the whole life of our world.

Confirmation of Election of Bishop Stephen Cottrell as the 98th Archbishop of York at York Minster

“But neither can I deny, that it has forced me to encounter things about myself which I had allowed to remain hidden behind the security of the things I have had to relinquish.”

Archbishop Stephen spoke about a group he is leading to discern a vision and strategy for the Church for the next decade.

He acknowledged that the Church will have to make decisions about priorities amid limited resources but he emphasised that it has reached no conclusions and hopes to bring some proposals to Synod next year.

He added: “At the moment I am engaged in a very wide ranging discussion with people from all across the church but with a particular determination to draw in and listen to the voices of younger Christians and those whose voices are not usually so easily heard in Church."

Archbishop Stephen concluded: “So, dear General Synod, as we enter some turbulent times and some challenging decisions, we are just going to have to learn again how to love one another, love the world and love God so that, both individually and collectively, we can be the place where God is revealed.

“We’ve not always been very good at this.

“We have allowed ourselves to become tribal and divided.

“We have allowed secondary things to obscure our belonging to each other.

“The Holy Spirit reveals Christ in us; and through us may we learn afresh how to share the gospel in the world.”