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John Sentamu: Our soldiers have a right to our respect – and to fair treatment


Over the past weeks we have become all too familiar with the sight of the coffins draped in union flags proceeding in dignified silence through the streets of Wootton Bassett. The sound of a single tolling bell is heard alongside the weeping of those gathered to welcome home their brave dead. The recent deaths of both Harry Patch and Henry Allingham have reminded us all of the sacrifice made by an entire generation. The spirit of that bravery lives on in the men and women who serve today and who risk all in order to bring liberty to those who have suffered for too long at the hands of dictators.

There has always existed a special relationship between the armed forces and this country which they represent. This relationship, or pact, was formally codified as a "covenant" in 2000. Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – in the name and service of the Crown. In putting the needs of the Nation and their comrades before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the armed forces.

In return for putting the needs of the Nation before their own, and for being ready to make the ultimate sacrifice, members of our armed forces should always expect just treatment and respect by Her Majesty's Government and by us all. They have a right to believe that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms of service.

All worship is empty and idle unless it sends us out to love God by loving our fellow human beings as well as walking more purely in the tempting ways of the world. We are to care for our neighbours who are in need: the unemployed, the homeless, the sick, the hungry and those who are in prison. And in this Year of the Child, we ought to commit ourselves to the principle that Every Child Matters, is unique, and is made in God's image and likeness – treating them with love and respect.

God the giver of all good things gives freedom, and we are charged to use that freedom well in the service of others. This relationship is not marked out by contract or obligation, but is rather one based upon covenant, upon a deep relationship marked out not by compliance but by trust.

Taken from a Yorkshire Day speech by the Archbishop of York in Malton on Saturday