Archbishop Rowan

Martyn Jarrett greets the new Primate of All England

Three days before his enthronement Archbishop Rowan gave a short but perceptive address to the General Synod of the Church of England. He was greeted with rapturous applause. I am told that one or two folk remained glued to their seats, not even observing the common courtesy of rising when the Archbishop first entered. It was, fortunately, all lost on me as I happily welcomed the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

A little local difficulty

The same small examples of negativity were to be seen at Archbishop Rowan’s enthronement. A band of protestors inveighed against the new archbishop. Arriving at Canterbury Cathedral was somewhat like walking down Walsingham High Street on National Pilgrimage day. I even thought I recognized the face of the occasional protestor. One of them implored me to do all I could to resist the new Romewards drift of the Church of England. Such a plea sent me scurrying excitedly into the cathedral precincts wondering what new things Archbishop Rowan has already said and done to further my life’s ambition. We each have our own particular criteria by which we try to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of having Archbishop Rowan as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. By mine, at least, there are good reasons for welcoming Rowan Williams to the See.

Hume from Hume

Firstly, we have in the new archbishop a much-respected world religious leader. From time to time we are richly blessed in this country in having among our religious leaders a person to whom both the community of faith and those beyond it increasingly look as they seek to discern something more of the divine. Arguably, in recent years, Cardinal Hume met much of that need as does occasionally the Chief Rabbi. To my mind, Archbishop Rowan goes even beyond that level of religious leadership. He sits with few others on a world stage of great faith leaders. Many are eager to hear what he has to say.

A recent document from the English Roman Catholic Hierarchy reminded us that evangelization in this country must be an ecumenical endeavour. Where the various Christian communities express theological viewpoints different from Roman Catholicism this is not seen as a reason for hindering a vast amount of common evangelistic initiative. Many of us know this to be true at grass root level. An Archbishop of Canterbury who can talk about God in an interesting and engaging manner on a wide stage is a tremendous asset both to English Christians in general and to Anglican Christians in particular.

Catholic Credentials

Archbishop Rowan is steeped in the Catholic way of doing theology. I recall, from my own days as a theological student, being taught that people who share a common method of doing theology, and then who differ as to their conclusions, often find they have more in common than those who have somehow drawn the same conclusions, but have quite differing methodologies. I presume, for instance, Archbishop Rowan has little difficulty with the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s recent document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. Many of our Evangelical friends, by contrast, might not find that document to their liking.

Archbishop Rowan’s willingness to be loyal to the Church’s teaching on sexuality reflects a position that many Catholics will understand as they seek to bring their own private difficulties about some aspect of the Faith within a loyalty to the Church’s teaching. I well remember a distinguished Anglo-Catholic bishop explaining that, while as an academic theologian he had felt free to explore the desirability of women being ordained to the priesthood, now that he was a bishop he believed himself to have no freedom to depart from the universal consensus of the Church whose doctrine he was called upon to defend.

We may well have our differences from Archbishop Rowan. Many of us will still recognize that we are talking much of the same theological language. This will not be without some stresses within our own movement. There are those for whom Archbishop Rowan’s use of the Bible will cause perhaps more angst than his conclusions. Sometimes the latter will only serve to confirm some folks’ fears as to the former. This debate, especially over the way we read Scripture, cannot be expressed simply in terms of those who are on the Archbishop’s side and those who are on ours. The debate runs on either side of the divisions as to the rightness or otherwise of ordaining women, and we will increasingly discover that it cannot be swept under the carpet.

Radical and rooted

Archbishop Rowan is undoubtedly a radical theologian. That does not necessarily mean he is a liberal. Certainly, many of us who stand within the traditionalist movement will also want to count ourselves as being radicals. We enjoy the going-back to the roots of our faith. We appreciate attempts to express orthodox faith in radically new and challenging ways. We are uncomfortable with the conservative theology that so often cannot constructively engage with the exciting thought that comes from a myriad of radically orthodox theologians. Recent liturgical debate within the columns of New Directions remind us of the large gap on many issues, within the life of today’s Church, between those who will probably find themselves on the same side of the divide, come the Third Province or whatever the eventual canonical provision for traditionalists might turn out to be.

Archbishop Rowan’s engagement with Catholic social theology serves to remind many of us of our roots in the Jubilee Group. Contrary to popular belief, not all of its disciples departed into Affirming Catholicism. So it is that many of us, standing with conviction within the traditionalist camp, will still find ourselves looking to Archbishop Rowan’s large and wise mind as we seek to address many of the issues confronting God’s world and Church today.

A friend in need

Archbishop Rowan was instrumental in helping to secure the position of traditionalists within the Welsh Church. His first public utterances suggest a determination to play fairly with those of us who could not accept the admission of women to the episcopate. I am told that at one stage of his ministry he happily found himself serving as spiritual guide to both the local chairman of Forward in Faith and a leading light in MOW. He understands and respects people of conscientious conviction different from his own. Certainly, a number of people standing within our tradition are among his friends.

Archbishop Rowan has said that probably neither champagne corks not black armbands were appropriate for his enthronement. All of us are in for both joy and discomfiture. I came home, somewhat elated from Canterbury, and was immediately struck down by influenza. The future is going to be a bumpy ride. I, for one, am glad that Rowan Williams occupies the chair of St Augustine as we set out for the next part of the journey.

Martyn Jarrett is Bishop of Beverley.

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