I was saddened to read that the Archbishop of Canterbury is to resign his see at the end of the year. I only met him once. I was attending the General Synod of the Church of England held in York in 2004. I went to get my visitor’s credentials and there was +Rowan, humbly in line. I asked him why he was in our line. He said that he had forgotten to bring his badge and was waiting for his chaplain to come back with it. Until then he wasn’t allowed in. He thought the situation to be very funny. That encounter is a brief view of +Rowan the person, rather than +Rowan the intellectual giant, or the holy priest.


Perhaps much of the confusion about the Archbishop of Canterbury is really about us. As we have become more politicized and more cynical, it is harder and harder for us to rest easily in the presence of brilliance and holiness, bound together with amazing humility. Leaders aren’t like that. They are not supposed to be like that. We don’t much mind if such persons are buried away in a monastic library or a university lecture hall. When such a person occupies a significant leadership role, we are befuddled. No politician could be like that. The only way we can manage is to press onto such a person our own world-weary pattern of leadership, despite the fact that the pattern doesn’t fit, couldn’t fit.


Then we grumble that the person who combines honesty and intellect and holiness, humility and a sense of humor doesn’t match up to our expectations. For ten years now we have sought to frame +Rowan in our own images, wrap him in our own standards, press him into our own causes and as a result have been disappointed and aggrieved. Mind you, many younger clergy and informed laity have admired +Rowan, read him, puzzled over his Hookerian paragraphs and delighted in the poetry of his thought. We’ve “heard” him preach on great State occasions and occasionally in simple parish churches. We’ve been astounded by his stature among other bishops and his bravery as he has confronted tyrants.


Now we speculate on a successor. The great danger is that we will recoil from holiness and settle for managerial and political savvy. I don’t think either talent will fix things and of course that’s what we want, whether we are progressive or traditional. We want our own way and we want a Communion and a church which conforms to our own day dreams of what the church should be like. For while we have been pressing our own pattern on +Rowan, we’ve been doing the same on the Communion and the Province in which we live. We may say that we believe in “Holy” Church, but we much prefer scrappy political church or tidy narrow church.


Thank you Archbishop for your leadership, your vision, your holiness-in-humility and your patience in adversity. Have fun at Cambridge.

4 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on The Pilgrim and commented:
    Just an absolutly awesome look at the ArchBishop’s retirement 🙂

  2. Insightful and challenging words. Seems to me that the Archbishop lives and leads from the inside out. He modeled for us the need to recover the interior life. I think that has to be our way forward.


  3. Well said and so true: yes, the confusion is about us. For me, the irony is this: in Rowan Williams we Episcopalians got an Archbishop who was more sympathetic to the issues of full inclusion than any other candidate available in 2002. Yet, in less than two years we compromised his leadership and damaged the Office of Archbishop of Canterbury. There is an interesting parallel there with the war in Iraq.
    Nathaniel Pierce

  4. We will miss that extraordinarily bright light…

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