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New Year Message 2004

Thursday 1st January 2004

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, with his New Year Message for 2004.

When you find yourself facing a new challenge, there's quite a lot you have to take on trust. For example, that despite initial evidence to the contrary – it isn't impossible. Also, that the person who claims to be trying to help you isn't just having a joke at your expense...Trust too that, however difficult at the outset, you will sooner or later be gliding along with the rest of them ...

There's clearly quite a lot to that little word "trust." And the more you examine it, the more important it becomes to our overall sense of security – the sense that we really are standing on solid ground. Sometimes it seems automatic. When a child puts out its hand, completely confident that mother or father is going to take it, you see trust at work in a way that looks so natural you wonder how you could ever question it. Sometimes trust becomes second nature – the basic currency on which some of us have to rely in order to be able to make our way in the world.

Trust is so important – yet more and more the talk is of a lack of trust: in politics, in business, in public life – from policemen to vicars. Perhaps there is cause – but whatever its roots, our own cynicism and suspicion can nourish that mistrust – leading us to half expect failure or cowardice or deceit.

In one way, it's hardly surprising if we find trust hard. The continuing threat of terrorism makes us constantly fearful. We don't know where the enemy is – and it is an enemy who is skilful and merciless and willing to risk everything. We may grumble at the constraints and checks - but part of us knows just why we move in this atmosphere of suspicion. Once you see the dreadful results of terrorism at close quarters, you can begin to appreciate why everyone comes to be viewed with a degree of mistrust.

But this is where the question suddenly swings round towards us. In a world of suspicion, how do we prove ourselves worthy of trust – not just as individuals but as nations and civilisations?

We are warned that famine is on the increase in the world once again; ground gained in the last twenty years is being lost: This is partly about natural disasters – but partly about the way the global economy works. We should not be surprised perhaps if the assumption grows that the powerful cannot be trusted in a world where too many feel they have nothing to lose.

One of the things that religious belief tells us is that we are trusted – by God; a God who trusts us to speak for him and about him, to act for his sake, who gives us liberty to make mistakes and still gives himself into our hands for us to share his love and promise with others.

We talk about religious 'faith' – but what we mean in plain English is of course trust. A real person of faith isn't necessarily a person full of a particular kind of religious certainty; it's a person who has become trustworthy because they know that God is to be trusted and that God has trusted, loved and forgiven them.

Each person's life gives a message of one kind or another, a message about what kind of world this is. As the New Year starts, perhaps one of the biggest questions each of us could ask is - "what message does my life give". Am I making the world a place where trust makes sense? And, deeper still, am I confident that even in my failings and my betrayals I am loved and trusted?

I hope that in the months to come you will find the strength and imagination to keep alive this sense of being trusted, so that all that you are will speak of a world where promises can be kept, where needs can be seen and met, where we really are committed to each other's humanity.

A very Happy New Year to you all.

© Rowan Williams 2003

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