​Dr Rowan Williams, in his final New Year Message as Archbishop of Canterbury, has paid tribute to people whose unsung efforts and sacrificial generosity help to transform lives and build communities.

In the BBC message, the 11th he has done since taking office in 2002, Archbishop Williams drew on the experience of the London Olympics to illustrate what it took to make the Games so successful: “Everyone who visited the Olympic site or watched the broadcasts will have been made aware of the army of volunteers who cheerfully gave up their free time and worked away, without complaint, all hours of the day and night to make these great events happen. They were the key people who translated the Olympic vision into reality for the rest of us.”

Similar things were happening in many communities, he said, and pointed to the work of London churches in caring for the disadvantaged: “Over 20 local churches are combining to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London. Religion here isn’t a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it’s a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated.”

This kind of contribution explained why so many of the things which worked well in communities came from the hard work and selfless generosity of ordinary people who wanted to make things happen: “If you have the good fortune to live in a community where things seem to be working well the chances are that if you slip backstage you’ll find an army of cheerful people making the wheels go round - and don¹t forget just what a huge percentage of them come from the churches and other faith groups.

“So let’s recognise this steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together in this country and indeed worldwide. It’s all based on one vision – to make our society, our whole world, work for everyone, not just the comfortable and well off.”

And he challenged people to ask what they can do: “We should be prompted to ask the tougher question: what can I do to join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication? There’ll be those who have time and skill and strength to offer; there¹ll be those who have less of these, but can support in prayer and goodwill.”

All of this, he said, gave us joyful glimpses of the quiet, unfailing generosity of God.

View the video and read the full transcript of Dr Williams' address: