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Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message 2006

Sunday 1st January 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, with his New Year Message for 2006.

It's not easy being on your own in a city anywhere; and being on your own in London is pretty challenging. There are all kinds of reasons for people being on their own, of course. Look around here, at this club and drop-in centre in Deptford, and you'll find young people with issues around drugs and employment and homelessness – but you'll also find older people, who've been widowed, or who've been seriously ill, or who've just lost the energy for the struggle in one way or another. The issues are so varied and so deep-rooted. You're bound to ask, 'Just how much can anybody do for anyone else'?

But this isn't a place where you expect to chalk up a series of dramatic success stories. Those who work here will tell you that the point isn't to solve the problems but chiefly to say to everyone who comes through the door that they don't have to face them alone. They're trying to close the gap that so readily opens up between people. They have realised that at times the most we can do for each other is to say, 'I can't promise to keep you safe, but I'll do all I can to make sure that there's someone with you in the worst moments.

When disasters and tragedies come on us thick and fast – and this last year has seen so many horrors of suffering, natural and man-made – it's painful to accept that we can't just do something straight away to set it all right. So we need to see that the one thing anyone can do is to try and close the gap, to let others know that they're not on their own.

It can be done in the smallest act of recognition – a word or two on the street to a Big Issue seller, an Amnesty card to a political prisoner somewhere. It can be done in the routine work of a drop-in centre, exchanging a few words, making a cup of tea; just telling people that they're worth spending time with.

We're used to hearing it said that the world is growing smaller. Communications make us more aware of what's happening, and travel possibilities mean that it may be our friends and families who are involved in some disaster on the other side of the world. This time last year, there were so many anxious families waiting for news of friends and relatives in the wake of the tsunami. This autumn, so many Indian and Pakistani families in this country had to face the same anxiety about their relatives back in the earthquake area.

Communications make the gap grow narrower in some ways. The challenge for us is to close the gap in our awareness and our readiness to be there alongside the lonely and suffering. And of course, part of the Christmas message is not that God solves all our problems at a single stroke, but that through Jesus he is completely alongside us and has enough resources to see us through whatever happens. The Bible reminds us too that when one part of a body is in pain it's the whole person who feels it. When you have a toothache, it isn't the tooth that feels the misery, it's you. If anyone is living less than a proper human life, we're all poorer for it. We're all involved already, like it or not

Whether it's our neighbours on the streets of Deptford or our neighbours in Pakistan or India or Sri Lanka or Central Africa, what we can all do is to try and close the gap that little bit further: to let people know that they're not suffering alone. We still have to look for the big solutions, the long-term aid and support, the problem-solving plans. But let's start with what anyone can do, anywhere; never mind the success, simply act and speak as if people were worth taking seriously.

In this New Year, may you be aware of the God who closes the gap between his life and yours through his love; and may you be spurred on to do what you can to close the gaps between people by your compassion and courage.

© Rowan Williams 2005

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