Well I must admit to being absolutely gob-smacked this morning to hear that Rowan Williams had announced his resignation. There had been rumours for ages that he was going to resign this year – 10 years as Archbishop is a long time and an exhausting one.
The press release says:
Archbishop Rowan Williams has today announced his acceptance of the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge with effect from January 2013. He will therefore be stepping down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December 2012. Dr Williams’ intentions have been conveyed to The Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England and who formally appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr Williams was appointed the one hundred and fourth Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002. He said today:
“It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision. During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond. I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry. I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead.”
Dr Williams will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury, both for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, until the end of the year.
There will be many commentaries about him over the next days and weeks. Many will highlight things that he should have done and didn’t do. Many will say that they have been “disappointed” in him that he was too intellectual or unfathomable or some such. So, let me tell you why I believe that he will go down in history as one of the greats. This isn’t a biography or “inside informed” – its just the opinion of one minor cleric in the Church of England.
Firstly, he has been an Archbishop put in the middle of a huge culture war within the worldwide Anglican communion. +Rowan sees unity as a key theological principle and has been trying to hold the Church together at considerable cost to himself. The accusations from the liberal wing that he has betrayed them and from the conservative wing that he isn’t sufficiently orthodox shows that he may well be holding it in the right place. The thing is that, so far, the church has stayed together. In a deeply fractured world where we keep being asked to take binary (yes/no) decisions that is both a sign and a symbol of what we are called to be and do. I have to say, on a personal level, that I don’t always agree with my fellow clergy but +Rowan always tried to keep the levels of communication open.
Secondly, I think that his sponsoring of the Fresh Expressions movement will be seen as very significant in the life of the Church of England and further afield. It has freed the Church of England to relate to parts of the community that it had long been absent from. He has overseen the introduction of Pioneer Ministers – focussed on creating and developing new communities and ways of bringing the Gospel to those who wouldn’t otherwise here it.
Thirdly, he has been brave to go into areas and comment on areas that are naturally of importance to the faith communities – poverty, conflict etc. His visit to Robert Mugabe last year in Zimbabwe and his preparedness to take on governments of all hues when he sees injustice done. Again, you don’t need to agree with all his views but he was prepared to speak out!
Fourthly, he has a great brain. He was not prepared to give slick one line sentences to the media to create a favourable headline. He is thoughtful and when you actually hear him you can see that he is prepared to consider a question in a real way rather than just superficially. He can be a great preacher (I heard him at HTB in 2010 and he gave a superb speech on the power of the Holy Spirit).
Finally, he is a man of deep spirituality and prayer. I suspect that has needed to deepen over his time as Archbishop. There are some people you meet who just have that humble and holy air about them. I have only met him once but I think that it would not be unfair to describe him in this way.
I am sad that he is stepping down, though not surprised as ten years in the role is enough for most mortals.
I am overjoyed that he will be with us on Sunday and I hope that we can welcome him as he deserves.
PS May need to re-look at some of my questions!!
PPS Update 13.45
Really interesting interview that he has given about his resignation. Well worth a read: http://bit.ly/xlPJhc