From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ACNS - Rowan Williams brings serenity, theology and compassion

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date Mon, 09 Dec 2002 16:16:07 -0800

ACNS 3222     |     ACNS     |	   9 DECEMBER 2002

Rowan Williams brings serenity, theology and compassion

by Matthew Davies

There is no question that to be Archbishop of Canterbury at this time is a
daunting challenge. Dr Rowan Williams has been called to be our spiritual
leader, to serve and to care for all, to maintain and further the unity of
the church, to uphold its discipline and to guard its faith.

He has also been called 'to know his people and to be known by them,' but in
this process the secular press has dwelt on the controversial, the negative.
Who really is this man who has been called to be Chief Pastor and leader in
a turbulent world like ours? People who have known him for years witness to
his serenity, theological erudition and deep compassion.

Since Archbishop George Carey announced his retirement earlier this year
Archbishop Rowan has been the subject of much media speculation. He is often
described as theologically conservative, radical and liberal by different
commentators, which perhaps suggests that he is a complex thinker who does
not fit easily into the usual categories.

However, it is a pity that many of his critics appear to have jumped to
unjustified conclusions rather than to sit back and allow him space for
contemplation and informed decision-making. Bishop Onell Soto, Acting
Director of Communications for the Anglican Communion, said, "I am sure that
many of his critics have most likely never read one of his books."

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria said in a statement, " My hope is that
[Rowan] will prove his detractors wrong. I respect him, he is a well-learned
man of God and I look forward to sharing in his ministry for us all."

During the course of this year, similar responses have been received by the
Anglican Communion Office from people whose lives have been touched by
Archbishop Rowan's humanity and understanding. It is difficult for them to
imagine that such a humble and erudite man has already faced so much
persecution. Unfortunately, the profile of such a post naturally attracts
much media attention, which is often paralleled by preconceptions.

The gifts that Archbishop Rowan brings to the Anglican Communion and his
Metropolitical family are many. He is an outstanding theologian; he has an
almost obsessive interest in youth and their involvement in the church; he
is broad minded yet sympathetic; he is an experienced and captivating public
speaker; he is in touch with modern culture; and he has a refreshing sense
of humour. Even tabloids in London reported that "he has a good voice."

Emphasising the impact that Dr Williams has had during his tenure as
Archbishop of Wales, the Bishops of the Church of Ireland, Episcopal Church
of Scotland and the Church in Wales, meeting in conference at Llandudno,
released a strong message of support. Part of that statement read:

"We wish to offer our prayerful good wishes to our colleague and friend
Archbishop Rowan Williams as he prepares for his enthronement as Archbishop
of Canterbury.

"In the Celtic Churches we have long valued his spirituality, integrity,
leadership, scholarship and humility. We pray that those gifts will be
enhanced by the spirit of God as he undertakes the leadership of the Church
of England and the Anglican Communion. We express our confidence in the
leadership of our international family which we believe he will offer as we
remember his fellowship with great affection."

The future of the Anglican Communion is highly dependent on its youth and
there is every reason to believe that Archbishop Rowan will instil renewed
enthusiasm into this 'lost generation', as he calls it.

In a recent interview with the Church Times he spoke about how he has always
valued school visits and the need to meet the younger Christians of his
Canterbury diocese.

"The pressures and the pace of youth culture are such that it is very hard
for the church to get a foothold in there," Dr Williams said. "Certainly,
the church has been very slow in catching up with this or even recognising
there is a problem. But that's not to say the frantic pace of the culture
many people live in is a good thing either."

A solution he advocates is for churches to offer more space where people can
'draw breath' without demanding a big commitment.

He praises one church in a Welsh diocese that holds weekly meetings in a
pub. "There's some singing, some talking, some questions and answers and
some of the things you do in pubs otherwise," he said.

Archbishop Rowan, born in Swansea in 1950, has written a number of books on
the history of theology and spirituality and has been involved in various
commissions on theological education. Recent authorships have included Lost
Icons, which takes a look at why our contemporary culture finds it so hard
to handle certain concepts and images. Speaking of this book the Most Revd
Frank T Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United
States, said:

"Those who are already familiar with the writings of Rowan Williams will
know of his gift of taking the ordinary stuff of human experience and
opening it up to show how it can carry us into the mystery of God

Dr Williams has been particularly applauded for his pragmatic approach to
some of the more diverse issues that face our Communion today. In a recent
statement the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane,
said, " [Rowan's] commitment to the Anglican Communion...will strengthen the
bonds of affection that bind us. I know, from past experience, that he will
challenge us to develop an ethic of living with our differences and

His first letter to his fellow Primates included a reminder that their
calling is to mission and evangelism and a warning of the dangers inherent
in allowing other interests to determine their agendas.

Canon John L. Peterson, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, said,
"Having travelled extensively throughout the Communion, Archbishop Rowan
brings to his new office a compassionate understanding of our global

Addressing a press conference at Church House in London on 23 July, Dr
Williams said, "An enormous trust has been placed in my hands, and I can
only approach it with a degree of awe as well as gratitude that I have been
thought worthy of it."

Such comments clearly demonstrate the unostentatious qualities that are
often associated with our 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. What more could
one ask from a leader of such a diverse family as the Anglican Communion.

The ACNSlist is published by the Anglican Communion Office, London.

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