What Gift Do We Leave to Our Children – A Message from Archbishop Rowan Williams


I was just sent the link to this video which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, recorded in advance of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in which he asks “What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?” I thought that many of you would appreciate it.

“All religious people see the world as a gift from God.  And all religious people are therefore bound to ask: if that’s the gift we’ve been given, how do we make it a gift to others, to the next generation?”

In the video, the Archbishop says that this question poses “a challenge that I think will resonate for absolutely everybody across the world.”

Viewing our environmental and social legacy as a ‘gift’ to be passed to the next generation, the Archbishop suggests that one such gift is “the wisdom of how to inhabit a world, how to inhabit a limited environment with grace, with freedom, with confidence.”

“Are we handing on a gift, both material and spiritual, that really will make them live well, live happily, so that their future will be secure and they too will have a gift to give to their children and grandchildren in turn?”

He highlights the key role that both governments and faith communities play in achieving this vision of justice for future generations, working collaboratively for an equitable and inclusive green economy:

“Governments can, of course, and must, play their part in all this.  Governments need to give fiscal incentives to green development.  They need to promote programmes that encourage us all to reduce our waste.  They need to ‘green’ our economy, both at home and worldwide.  And we, all of us, not least the faith communities, need to collaborate in that and support governments in that vision.”

“Big changes come because small changes happen”

A transcript of the Archbishop’s message follows.

The big question that faces Rio+20 is: what kind of world do we want to leave to our children? And that’s not just a question about what kind of material environment we want to leave – the answers to that, in a way, are quite simple: we want a world that’s free of pollution, a world where everyone has access to clean water, a world where food supplies are secure, a world where people have learned sustainable methods of agriculture and development.

But just as importantly, it’s a question of what kind of habits and what kind of lifestyle we want to leave to our children – what sort of skills we want to see them developing in living sustainably in this world.

That means, as in so many areas, we have to start small and we have to start local. Big changes come because small changes happen. And in the work I do, I have the privilege of seeing quite a lot of small change going on. Last year in Kenya I was able to see the work done by the Anglican Church there in developing the Umoja agricultural methods, methods that lift people out of subsistence agriculture to real sustainable production of food for themselves, and training also in nutritional information so that agricultural development, food security, and healthcare go together. There are many other such local projects, and I have also been deeply impressed by the way in which people locally across the world have challenged and resisted some of the depredations of the extractive industry, in many areas one of the greatest threats to a sustainable future.

Governments can, of course, and must, play their part in all this. Governments need to give fiscal incentives to green development. They need to promote programmes that encourage us all to reduce our waste. They need to ‘green’ our economy, both at home and worldwide. And we, all of us, not least the faith communities, need to collaborate in that and support governments in that vision.

But at root, the question remains the same: what kind of world do we want to hand on? Imagine that you have a child’s or a grandchild’s birthday coming up. You want to give them a present. You want to give them something that will genuinely mean something to them, that will enrich their lives, that will be part of lasting growth and well-being. And that’s what we’re challenged to do here. It’s a challenge that I think will resonate for absolutely everybody across the world. Simply enough: what’s the gift we want to give? The gift of a world that’s more free from pollution, a world whose future is more secure, a world where more people have access to food and clean water and healthcare? Yes. But also a world in which we’re transmitting the wisdom of how to inhabit a world, how to inhabit a limited environment with grace, with freedom, with confidence.

All religious people see the world as a gift from God. And all religious people are therefore bound to ask: if that’s the gift we’ve been given, how do we make it a gift to others, to the next generation? How do we do justice by our children and grandchildren? How do we act fairly by them? Are we handing on a gift, both material and spiritual, that really will make them live well, live happily, so that their future will be secure and they too will have a gift to give to their children and grandchildren in turn?

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3 Responses

  1. I agree withe the archbishop, however churches should also be considering the spiritual legacy we have (or have not) left our children. Our rampaging economic obsession has made money and wealth a god. Creation is not a god either. So our question should really be, what does it say about us and our spiritual condition when we treat God’s creation so poorly?

  2. […] blogger, Christine Sine at Godspace, alerted me to a message by Dr. Rowan Williams the Archbishop Canterbury for a Conference on […]

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