Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Rector’s Letter - February 2003
It is right that this month, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury is enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral, we should note the event, commit our prayers for Rowan Williams, and in the midst of continuing confrontational statements from certain quarters in our church, reaffirm our appreciation of his extraordinary gifts, especially his ability to hold, affirm and take seriously the views of people from many different backgrounds and traditions. The really fascinating thing is his ability still, having taken account of so many different viewpoints, to come up with statements and addresses that profoundly challenge his audiences, whether secular or religious.
Such was the case with his Dimbleby Lecture. Despite the fact that a range of people disagreed with him on a range of issues in it, no-one was able either to ignore his challenge or to cast aspersions at him, because everyone who bothered to listen realised that there was a richness and a depth to what he was saying that could not be dismissed. As Clifford Longley wrote in the Tablet a couple of weeks ago, disagreeing with Rowan’s analysis of the nation state, “never mind the sociology, hear the wisdom”.
Rowan would be the last person in the world to claim infallibility about anything. It will not faze him that people disagree with him. Indeed, having been a University professor and a college tutor, nothing delights him more than to engage in informed and eirenic argument about matters of first order importance for this world, and about our understanding of God. It is in such prayerful and respectful debate that truth emerges. If he can lead us as a church and a Communion, and indeed as a nation, down that path then we are in for a profoundly enriching ten years or so under his leadership - and believe me, the community of believers will develop and flourish at all levels. (Because remember, Rowan’s theology is not in any way ivory tower-based, even if it is occasionally opaque. His reflection and prayer leads him to take radical stances on many political and social issues.) But if elements of the church continue to try to undermine his ministry, they will have a heavy burden of responsibility to bear as they drag us down with them to being, once again, the laughing-stock of the secular world.
Rowan is a humble man. He has tried in these early months, as one would expect of him, to meet his critics, to reassure them, to explain himself and to establish that he takes his leadership role very seriously indeed. Let us hope and pray that others will be moved by a similar sense of humility and the love and grace of God, so that we may in unison cry ‘Thanks be to God’ as Rowan mounts the steps to the Chair of Augustine.