Dr John Sentamu is the UK’s first black archbishop and the Church of England’s second most senior clergyman.
His appointment as the Archbishop of York in June 2005 was a breakthrough in the history of the Church of England.
He was hailed as Downing Street’s favourite Anglican bishop and praised for his plain speaking, energy and passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ugandan-born John Sentamu, the UK’s first black archbishop and – as Archbishop of York – is the Church of England’s second most senior clergyman.
Although he is a prominent campaigner on race issues and no stranger to racist attitudes, Dr Sentamu does not want to be seen as “the black archbishop”.
He would rather be known as a leader who will bring God’s love, grace and mercy to the world.
Forgiveness and hope
Sentamu astonished many both inside and outside the Church when he offered the hand of friendship to people who sent him racist mail after his appointment as Archbishop of York.
In an interview with the BBC he calmly described how some of the letters had been smeared with human excrement. Millions of listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme heard how the archbishop had prayed for the letter writers, particularly those who had written to him anonymously.
He said: “The Gospel offers forgiveness for the past, new life for the present, and hope for the future,” he said. “This tiny minority is not going to stop me from telling people that if we become a society of friends and a society that will discover the wonderful love of God and Christ, we have a chance of leading the nation in prayer.”
The Uganda-born archbishop insisted that Britain was a welcoming and tolerant country despite his personal experiences of racial hatred. He said he had been heartened by the many letters of support he had received from the people of his archdiocese.
Dr Sentamu was a high court judge in Uganda before fleeing Idi Amin’s regime. He came to Britain in 1974 after being involved in a case that led to the imprisonment of one of Amin’s cousins.
Britain’s most senior black churchman
Once in the UK, Dr Sentamu set about chasing his dream of becoming an instrumental black leader in the Church. His outspokenness and strong missionary zeal earned him a reputation as a fearless leader who is capable of bringing new life to the Church.
As the Church of England’s number two, Archbishop Sentamu works closely with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Before his inauguration in November 2005, Dr Sentamu spoke of his hopes for a “creative partnership” with the Archbishop of Canterbury. He called Dr Williams his ‘Moses’ and described himself as Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law who was practical and gave advice.
He also made it clear that homosexuality is not a “dividing issue” for him. He defended the Church of England against accusations that it had been too tolerant, saying: “We are Christians first and foremost by our common purpose in Christ and our life in the spirit.”
He added: “I want to treat every human personality as loved by God. He who has never sinned, said Jesus, let him cast the first stone. My mother was right when she said: ‘Don’t point a finger at anyone because you’ll find three fingers pointing back at you.'”
Rediscovering English culture
In the week leading up to his inauguration Archbishop Sentamu spoke out against multiculturalism, arguing that the English people had to reclaim their national identity.
He said the English should be proud of their history and roots and mark celebrations like St George’s Day.
“Multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys and its pains,” he said in an interview in The Times.
The archbishop said the British Empire and the English teachers and missionaries who worked in Africa had made it possible for him to be where he is today.
Dr Sentamu was inaugurated as the Archbishop of York on November 30 2005 at York Minster.
John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu was born into Uganda’s Buffalo Clan near Kampala in 1949. He is the sixth of 13 children.
He weighed only 4lb at birth and was baptised on the day he was born because he was not expected to survive the night.
As a child he thought about studying medicine but he eventually decided to qualify as a barrister.
Encouraged by English missionaries and teachers, he graduated in law from Makere University, Kampala in 1971.
He practised law at the bar and the bench in the High Court of Uganda before fleeing to Britain in 1974 due to persecution under Idi Amin’s regime.
High court judge to clergyman
Sentamu read theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He gained a master’s degree and a doctorate before training for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.
Following his ordination in 1979, the Rev Sentamu served as an assistant chaplain at Selwyn College, Cambridge, later becoming chaplain at Lachmere House remand centre. He also served as a curate at St Andrew’s, Ham in Southwark diocese.
He became curate of St Paul’s, Herne Hill in 1982 before taking on the parish of Holy Trinity and St Matthias, Tulse Hill the following year.
During this time he attracted new churchgoers with lively sermons, music and dancing in the aisles.
Vicar to bishop
He left parish life behind in 1996 after he was appointed Bishop of Stepney.
As a former judge and Britain’s most senior black churchman, he was invited to serve as an advisor on the Stephen Lawrence enquiry. He also chaired the Damilola Taylor Review in 2002.
He was appointed Bishop of Birmingham the same year and became heavily involved with issues affecting the community.
He supported and advised workers affected by the closure of the Rover car plant in Birmingham and campaigned against gun crime throughout the Midlands after the killings of cousins Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare.
Bishop Sentamu was appointed Archbishop of York in June 2005.
He and his wife, Margaret, have two grown-up children, Grace and Geoffrey.
The archbishop’s interests include music, cooking, reading, athletics, rugby and football.
The Uganda Diaspora Network is a forum aimed at bringing together Ugandans who live and work abroad by celebrating their contributions overseas and also encouraging them to give of their time, talents, ideas and expertise whilst inspiring the next generation of Ugandan leaders.
Every year the Ugandan Diaspora Network will organize an annual Social Networking Gala and will also produce a quarterly publication highlighting the successes of the various Ugandans residing overseas. Please send us those inspirational stories and philanthropic work involving Ugandans abroad. We shall share these stories using this platform that is rapidly growing and expanding. The Next Diaspora Social Networking Gala will be Held on 30th December 2016 at The Kampala Serena Hotel.
Bishop, Greetings to you in the Name of our saviour Jesus Christ. Thank you being a faithful servant of the Lord. I will bless you always so that you may continue as a winning Gospel labourer.
Grace and peace lead you in your life.
Rev. Nnakabaale Kaasa
Your co-servant of God
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May the good Lord who began His wonderful word in you shall accomplish it all. May the Lord use you mightily. Live to see many descendants (2Tim. 2:15. Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved and correctly handles the word of truth). I thank God and very happy.
God bless you now and always and lets keep praying for one another that one day this walk share lead us to internity.
CHELANGAT SUSAN -KAPCHORWA
In fact, I literally learned the bible at the feet of Reverend John Sentamu at the then Crusaders Sunday classes at Nakasero Primary School in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even then I knew that his charisma and fiery dedication to God’s word and message would one day lead him to being a great religious figure somewhere, Given his outspokeness, I was least surprised when I later learnt that he had got into trouble with the Amin regime, an aspect that had forced him to flee the country. Let us hope that he uses his very high ecumenical pulpit to work for the upliftment of the already dispirited and downtrodden, especially in these contemporary trying political, social and economic tribulations.
Your appointment as a black would go a long way in a predominantly a white country to show that in the eyes of the Lord, we are all equal.
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