From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopal: New archbishop of Canterbury has rough ride on road to enthronement

Date Sun, 15 Dec 2002 14:33:12 -0500

December 13, 2002


Episcopal: New archbishop of Canterbury has rough ride on 
road to enthronement

by James Solheim

(ENS) Although it is highly unlikely that the new archbishop of 
Canterbury will be martyred, like some of his more famous 
predecessors, the road to the office as head of the Church of 
England and the worldwide Anglican Communion has been filled 
with some pernicious potholes for Rowan 

When Williams was formally and legally confirmed 
December 2 in London's St. Paul's Cathedral as the 104th 
archbishop of Canterbury in an ancient ceremony that had aspects 
of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, he was granted the "rights, 
dignities, honours, privileges and appurtenances" of the post. 
Beginning with the announcement 
of his appointment last July, the former archbishop of the 
Church in Wales has also been subjected to more than his share 
of indignities and even organized efforts to convince him to 
resign--a stream of nasty criticism that is likely to continue 
right up to his enthronement February 27 in Canterbury 

"I pray for God's guidance as I seek to meet this new 
challenge--a challenge I face with a sense of inadequacy but 
also with hope, with joy and with enthusiasm," he said following 
the London ceremony.

The bishops of the Church in Wales sent a message 
thanking God for his life and ministry and assuring him that 
his qualities of "spirituality, integrity, leadership, 
scholarship and humility" would enhance his leadership and serve 
as a gift to the whole Anglican Communion.

Strong qualifications

There is almost universal agreement on the strong qualifications 
Williams brings to the challenges he faces--an unusual 
combination of humility and intellect, a person who listens 
carefully to the opinions of others but is also able to put 
forward strong and often convincing arguments of his own. Some 
have called him the best theologian in Britain. "More than that, 
he has a personal warmth that enables him to deal easily with 
people of all backgrounds," said Paul 
Vallely, writing in the Independent.

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold greeted 
the appointment. "The combination of a keen mind and a 
contemplative heart, together with an ability to relate 
classical Christian tradition to the needs and struggles of our 
world, make him eminently qualified to take up this important 
and challenging ministry of service."

Sexuality is the issue?

The conservative evangelical group Reform, however, said that 
Williams should resign unless he can affirm "the received 
teaching of the church that all its members are to abstain from 
sexual relations outside holy matrimony" and "the need for 
appropriate discipline" for those who disobey--especially those 
seeking ordination. Williams has acknowledged that he ordained 
to the priesthood an openly gay man he knew was living in a 
relationship. He has also questioned whether celibacy should be 
an absolute requirement for gay and lesbian candidates. At the 
same time, he wrote to Reform and said that "sexual morality 
should not be a defining issue."

He wants the Church of England to take another look at "Issues 
in Human Sexuality," the document passed by the church's 
House of Bishops that bars non-celibate homosexuals from the 

In a letter to the primates of the 38 churches of the 
worldwide Anglican Communion shortly after the appointment was 
announced, Williams sought to reassure them that he recognized 
the resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the majority 
view and would not promote his personal views. Yet he pointed 
out that the Lambeth resolution also called on the church to 
listen to the experience of gays and lesbians.

In a wide-ranging interview with Colin Blakely of the Church 
of England Newspaper, Williams said that he was 
"saddened that before we had any real conversation face-to-face 
certain decisions seem to have been made about what I thought.I 
would have liked the opportunity to establish some relationships 
before the positions were hardened."

He also said 
that the controversies swirling around his appointment 
weren't doing the church much good. "For while the people who 
have written to me are acting out of a real concern of what is 
best for the church and the integrity and orthodoxy of the 
church, that is not always the message that comes through."

He also met 
with a group of primates and bishops the day after the St. 
Paul's ceremony in an effort to clarify his views on sexuality. 
While there were reports that the group, a new umbrella 
organization called the All 
Souls Group, was reassured, they have also signed a 
statement that says they "cannot accept the prevailing 
individual moral autonomy where every self expression is equally 
acceptable and valid, and which often positions itself as self 
evident and above challenge or testing."

Members of the group that includes representatives of Reform, 
the Church Society and the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, 
some of whom have in the past attacked Williams as "a false 
teacher." Some evangelical bishops refused to sign because they 
perceived the statement as a thinly disguised slam at Williams. 
"To call a statement about sex 'Leadership in Society' shows an 
obsession with the issue," said Bishop Pete Broadbent of 
Willesden. "What about justice and other world issues?"

No honeymoon period

Paul Handley noted in an article 
for the Independent days before the ceremony at St. 
Paul's, "Because he was always the favoured candidate, and the 
appointment process was so leaky, his honeymoon period happened 
before the marriage."

There has been considerable speculation about the role 
Williams will play on the national scene, especially in light of 
his willingness to take stands on public issues. He signed a 
statement sent to Downing Street, for example, that said, "It is 
deplorable that the world's most powerful nations continue to 
regard war and the threat of war as an acceptable instrument of 
foreign policy, in violation of the ethos of both the United 
Nations and the Christian moral teaching."

Some in the notoriously prickly British press openly welcomed 
the archbishop's voice in the public debate. "Guiding the Church 
of England into the 21st century will be a demanding task in 
itself, but there is a much wider role for a new archbishop who 
is bold enough to take it," said an editorial in The Independent 
on the eve of the St. Paul's ceremony. It concluded that 
"Williams could become an important and distinctive voice in a 
troubled country where the range of views, tensions and 
conflicts are rarely echoed on the national political stage. His 
appointment could not be better timed."

Despite his comments questioning the government's support for 
an American offensive against Iraq, Downing Street commented 
immediately after the appointment that the prime minister 
believed that the new archbishop's wisdom, intellectual stature 
and deep spirituality would be invaluable as he sought to lead 
the church through complex and challenging times.

A disestablished church?

Williams comes from a church in Wales that was disestablished 
in 1920 and he has sent clear signals that he is ready to 
reexamine the relationship between the church and state and 
consider the possibility of a different shape for a national 
church. "The notion of the monarch as supreme governor has 
outlived its usefulness," he has said. Yet he recognizes that 
any move to disestablish the Church of England will be a long 
and delicate one, not sudden but done "by a thousand cuts."

The intense scrutiny is likely to continue and perhaps 
intensify. Despite the sniping by those who are disappointed 
with his appointment, Williams made it very clear how he views 
his role. In his first comments after the announcement, he said 
that "the primary job for me remains what it has long been: I 
have to go on being a priest and bishop, that is, to celebrate 
God and what God has done in Jesus--and to offer in God's name 
whatever I can discern of God's perspective on the world around, 
something which involves both challenge and comfort."


--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home