DR ROWAN WILLIAMS resigned as Archbishop of Canterbury on December 31 to return to his Cambridge college as master, after
DR ROWAN WILLIAMS resigned as Archbishop of Canterbury on December 31 to return to his Cambridge college as master, after 10 years in the most difficult job in the Anglican Communion.
His going has produced many reactions from within the wider church and particularly in the Press. He is acknowledged to be the most learned of all recent office-holders, speaking fluently more than six languages, as well as being “the most brilliant theologian of our time”, according to the Roman Catholic Dominican, Father Timothy Radcliffe OP. In addition to being a Christian theologian and author of a number of learned books, he is also acknowledged as a poet of high standing.
Whatever his failings, one thing no one has ever questioned is the depth of his spirituality. To the more discerning, this quality is far more important than his gifts of leadership. He never posed as a “popular” leader but was more concerned to exercise a prophetic-style ministry in a world and church which looked for soundbites.
Despite all these accolades, many regard him as a failure as archbishop because under his leadership the Church seems to have lost credibility. He tried to retain unity but the harder he tried the more obvious the divisions became. In the end, he seemed almost friendless.
It is appropriate to write these thoughts a week before the Feast Day of St Paul, the most able and learned of all the Apostles, the theologian par excellence, who would have never been elected as a bishop in the modern-day church because of his views about sexuality and the role of women in the Church, plus his moral stand on the importance of marriage, as defined by the Church, and holding no truck with its redefinition by the state. As for so-called “gay marriages”, he was not a supporter.
At least Dr Williams was not physically assassinated by his enemies in the state or by his critics within the church as was St Paul. Comparing himself with the fate of St Thomas à Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, he says: “I got off lightly.”
The new Archbishop Justin Welby seems to be a good man, skilled in many ways in areas which were not apparent in Dr Williams, especially in the worlds of baking and economics. However, he has only been a bishop for a year in Durham and he is not renowned as a theologian. I no longer welcome new leaders in the Church with great enthusiasm. Those who do are simply declaring their joy that someone of their own persuasion has been selected for the top job.
We must remain cautious because the new archbishop will be a disappointment if he is to consider the issues with fresh eyes and reach different conclusions from his own supporters. We must not put our hopes in one man to solve the church’s issues, causing further grief to some. Furthermore, archbishops are not dictators — we cannot say of them, as is done in the orthodox church, “O Despota, long may you reign!” What we long for is for new styles of leadership to overcome our rigid divisions.