I very much enjoyed listening on the radio to the Archbishop of Canterburyâ€™s sermon during the National Service of Thanksgiving in St Paulâ€™s Cathedral on Tuesday, as part of the celebrations for the Queenâ€™s Diamond Jubilee. Ever thoughtful, Rowan Williams, reflecting on the Queenâ€™s 60 years of service to the nation, took the opportunity to remind us all that it is our responsibility to look out for others, to serve others, and to dedicate ourselves to the life of others, for this is how society functions: alone we are only a shadow of ourselves, and together we are richer and fuller.
This latter point was the point he made most eloquently: that by dedicating ourselves to others in society, we are not entering upon some hard and unrewarding path of self-denial, but rather enriching our lives and bringing greater joy into them. As we start the process, he said â€œYou will begin to discover that the other person is a source of nourishment, excitement, pleasure, growth and challenge. And if we broaden this out to an entire community, a nation, a commonwealth, it means discovering that it is always in an ever-widening set of relations that we become properly ourselves. Dedication to the service of a community certainly involves that biblical sense of an absolute purge of selfish goals, but it is also the opening of a door into shared riches.â€
Dedication to others is severely underrated in our world, where the mantra of â€˜greed is goodâ€™ often still underpins much of how people act. Yet this kind of selflessness is essential to our survival. As the Archbishop put it, â€œThis alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal â€“ and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us.â€ Looking out, beyond ourselves, to our collective social good, can and will make a difference to the world.
The Queen is a shining example of dedication to others, of duty and of service. The point that Rowan Williams made was that she has also found joy in this process, and so can each of us. We need role models – our children need role models â€“ of people who are doing precisely this: reaching out beyond their own selves to impact on the wider life of their community: â€œMoralists (archbishops included) can thunder away as much as they like; but theyâ€™ll make no difference unless and until people see that there is something transforming and exhilarating about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together â€“ being glad of each otherâ€™s happiness and safety.â€
Refreshing and liberating; and food for thought. Time, I think, for a renewed purpose and action.