“The prevailing attitude …was one of heavy disagreement with a number of things which the [speaker] had not said.” Quipped the Archbishop of Canterbury, quoting Ronald Knox, and raising a significant snigger of agreement around Church House.
This was after a long - very long, sustained, and loud - standing ovation, as the archbishop walked in. Did synod members have concerns over the previous week’s ‘Sharia controversy’? - yes. Did the Archbishop still have the support of Synod? - indubitably. Three times, or four, the archbishop tried to stop the applause, and move on to business, and failed. Synod’s point was clearly made.
++ Rowan Williams moved straight in with an aspect of penitence, as portrayed in the Psalms, appropriate in this Lenten season - Who can tell how oft he offendeth? Cleanse Thou me from my secret faults. (Ps 19:4)
The archbishop is a regular visitor to the minority Christian peoples in majority Muslim countries; and a friend and colleague of senior Muslim leaders in our country. His speech was made to the country’s senior lawyers, gathered in the Royal Courts of Justice. His comments, trimmed to sound-bite length, may have raised concerns in the media - but the thought that he was unprepared, or unaware of the issues he was speaking about, appear shallow.
In some respects, it was a pity that the previous week’s furore had distracted from what was otherwise to be a significant intervention by the Archbishop on the political and ecclesiastical situation in Zimbabwe. We were privileged to have Bishop Sebastian Bakare, now chief Anglican pastor in Harare, as guest of the Synod, and present in the visitors gallery; he was warmly welcomed. With his appointment, the local church was now “recovering the moral initiative” as Dr Williams put it, lost under the previous administration of Bishop Kuonga. In passing, we were also informed of Archbishop Sentamu’s urgent invitation to go to Kenya to assist with mediation and peacekeeping there - indeed ++Sentamu was still traveling back from Kenya, hoping to be with Synod by Tuesday. Here were living examples of the importance of the worldwide Anglican Communion - and with that, comments on Lambeth 08.
“My deepest hope and prayer for Lambeth is that it will be a decisively counter-cultural event” concluded the Archbishop. Hope and pray so too - but counter-cultural sometimes invites misunderstanding from those with in a predominant secular culture. Or even those who find the Lambeth Conference this year counter-cultural to the prevailing church culture… I expect the Archbishop will find himself steering this ship of faith through rather choppy waters.