‘OFF we go’. With these three briskly-spoken words, the Archbishop of York begins the final leg of his six-month prayer pilgrimage and strides under the historic Micklegate arch and into the thronging heart of his city.
Dr John Sentamu is a man on a mission. Even though York is teeming with inebriated racegoers, stag-dos and hen parties, some more worse than wear than others, he soon strides purposefully towards the most special of homecomings.
There’s no let up in the pace after a 2,000 mile walk throughout the Diocese of York where he has prayed at 480 churches, visited 130 schools and comforted the sick at 22 hospitals and hospices. He has stayed overnight with the bereaved.
Or Dr Sentamu’s spontaneity as he stops to converse with passers-by who look in need of comfort – or a warming word of reassurance from the Church of England’s second-in-command. Others look bemused as the Archbishop resplendent in his purple scapular and hardy walking boots walks past packed bars.
And then journey’s end – Parliament Square where hundreds greet their Archbishop’s arrival with a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace by One Voice York, whose musical repertoire is in perfect harmony with the occasion.
Even prayers for the rain to stop are answered, albeit after Dr Sentamu – microphone in hand – looked to the heavens and implored the clouds: “Just move on. Be gentlemanly about it. Come on you clouds, just move.” They did.
Part celebration of a mission accomplished prior to the ordination of 22 new deacons in York Minster who have a near-impossible act to follow, it’s also deeply spiritual because of the Christian faith’s importance to the Ugandan-born clergyman’s work.
He’s on fine form, pointing at the entrance of the nearby Marks & Spencer department store and how its former motto – ‘ordinary clothes made extraordinary’ – goes to the core of the Church’s teachings. He has a way with words and making them relevant.
“In the 1970s, there was the ‘Kiss’ principle. Keep it simple stupid,” he tells The Yorkshire Post. “We have not kept it simple. That’s got to be our new mission.”
He’s clearly grateful for the time that his pilgrimage, which began at Whitby at the start of Advent, has afforded him and allowed him to pray with more than 22,000 people.
There are other lessons. He describes the region’s schools as “amazing”. “There is not a single school where I would not be happy to send my children,” he says. He now has a better appreciation of “the fortitude” of farmers, whether it be the East Riding’s pea industry or the plight of the dairy industry. “It’s not sustainable,” say Dr Sentamu.
His day began at St Chad’s Church in the shadow of York Racecourse where, typically, he prayed for the nearby school and the adjacent new housing development. The 66-year-old then met traders on York’s famous ‘Bishy Road’ while also taking time to talk to those having a quiet coffee. One shy lady, a cleaner at the university, was in awe. She knew of the Archbishop, but never thought she would meet him because she didn’t feel important enough. This man of the people found time.
Then more prayers in York’s historic Bar Convent before the final walk into York where he told wellwishers: “I’m still in the business of being transformed and transfigured. If you don’t believe me, my wife is here. Ask her.” She nods her head in affirmation. “He’s just himself,” says Margaret Sentamu when asked to sum up her husband’s strength of faith and character on the day that the Archbishop of York came home – to his city and to his people.
Man of the people back on the road
AFTER being given personal dispensation by the Queen to be excused official duties for six months, the Archbishop of York hopes to spend two days a week meeting people from all walks of life.
He has been heartened by the extent to which his pilgrimage reached out to Christians and non-Christians alike. After meeting a Middlesbrough youth football team who then won their next game, they asked if Dr John Sentamu could become their “mascot”. A visit to Brian Ellison’s racing stables in Malton saw him meet popular racehorse Top Notch Tonto as well as stable staff and jockey Megan Carberry whose subsequent wins have been noted. The Archbishop says the pilgrimage has left him even more “energised”.