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Monday, 12 September 2011

On ++Rowan's retirement - or Which Jesus?

So Jonathan Wynne-Jones got the Sunday Telegraph splash with the news that the Archbishop of Canterbury is to retire in 2012 (perhaps, maybe), 9 years before he needs to.

Photo via Scott Gunn

Several have observed that:
  • this is not quite news (as it is yet to be substantiated) 
  • that it was widely talked of at the July 2011 General Synod (I heard it from a very savvy bishop,  not +Londin), and 
  • that it had been published before (e.g. in Stephen Bates' Guardian diary).

Even so, JW-J has quite a good record on standing up stories that initially looked a bit flimsy. Even if there are bits of this one that are entirely calculable and predictable.

The quintessential academic, Dr Williams spent his 2007 sabbatical researching and writing Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction, and has spent much fruitful time in his career in universities. So it is not hard to surmise that is one avenue he may hope to return to, and especially at Cambridge.

He has already held the post for over 8 years, a bit more than Coggan, and (currently) just a bit less than Runcie and Carey. He has one 'Lambeth' under his belt, and may well want to give time for the next ABC to be in post long enough to prepare for the next one. He has had to deal with impossible things before breakfast, such as Women bishops on the home front, and gay clergy & the Covenant on the global scale. His tenure has come under criticism from many fronts. No wonder the conjecture that he may want to go - let alone being pushed.

However, there is no leader without criticism; no simple answers to impossible questions. No set time to serve in a post; and nor one to leave it. The next Lambeth is in 2018 - plenty of time before needing to start preparations.

That hasn't prevented much virtual ink being spilt on why, or when ++Rowan might go, and even more on who might succeed him, if, let alone when, he decides is the right time to go. Amongst those who have commented, several sagely, are Scott Gunn, Adrian Worsfold, Tim Skellett, Charlie Peer, Nick Baines, and even Mr Catolick has a cautionary video.

Could Dr Williams have done otherwise - with his every move being scrutinised, and judged, and found wanting by parties on so many different sides? I'm reminded of the Bishop of London in 1994.

+David Hope had supported women's ordination as deacons, but not as priests, and the formulation of the London Plan was the pragmatic response. His resistance to ordaining women as priests himself led to criticisms of traditionalism and misogyny from all the more liberal wings of the church. Then on the day that the London ordination was to take place by the then Bishop Willesden, hidden amongst the pageantry and media frenzy an un-announced - almost un-noticed - tiny procession led the diocesan bishop to his cathedra. I was there, and profoundly moved by the simple humility of the action.

Almost un-noticed - but not quite; as then all the more conservative wings of the church also turned against him 'for giving in to the liberals'. And he would have known and expected that. Yet he wanted to be there in person, to as best as he was able support those women to be ordained priest in his diocese and holding his license. For maintaining his own theological position, whilst supporting a view he could not himself hold as best he could, he left himself with few friends - but more integrity.

Rowan Williams is criticised by the conservatives for being too liberal; and by the liberals for too regularly giving in to the conservatives. Every now and then a cheer goes up from whichever lobby group feels it is currently winning - whether it is to do with women bishops, or whichever bishopric Jeffrey John should or should not be appointed to.
Image via St Patrick's Guild

There is a beguiling and challenging simplicity to the W.W.J.D., the What Would Jesus Do bracelets. In any daily - but particularly in any difficult - decision, it reminds the wearer to ask 'What would Jesus do' here. I am sure - in a theologically credible way - that is exactly what Rowan Williams has often done, and thereby sometimes found himself making choices other than his own first option.

Meanwhile, some of us will have to make sure that we do not fall in to the trap of making Jesus in to our own image, and expecting him to follow our own favoured choices.

What Would Jesus Do? Who's Jesus are we talking about?

Alastair Cutting (96 Chichester)


Peter Kirk said...

W.W.J.D? I don't think Jesus would ever have let himself get into a job like an Archbishop's, with its elaborate ceremonies and links with the state. But if he had, he would surely resign immediately.

What should Rowan do? The same, as I wrote in 2007, and the kinds of reasons I gave then. Rowan is a great theologian, but he is not the right man for his job. The Church of England and the Anglican Communion need instead at the helm a man (or woman, but obviously not this time round) who likes "the political bits" and, more importantly, is good at them.

Justin Brett said...

If Jesus wouldn't be Archbishop then perhaps the real problem isn't the person occupying the office but the office itself. So, until we find a better way of doing it I'd much rather have a reluctant theologian at the reins than an adroit politician.

Mr CatOLick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr CatOLick said...

What would Jesus do? More possibly, what would the Church do to Jesus? One might argue that the establishment, and here I must include the Archbishops, seem to have buried Jesus comprehensively under reams of cloth, heaps if gold and fired him from a canon or two. :-)

Mr C

apologies previous post not put together properly.