CANTERBURY: Rowan Williams takes up the cross of diplomacy
by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
July 19, 2008
As a clergyman facing the most challenging fortnight of his ministry, the Archbishop of Canterbury may find solace in a favourite religious aside.
Dr Rowan Williams likes to tell the story of Pope John XXIII, who woke up worrying about a problem. He said to himself: "I'll consult the Pope about that." Then he thought: "Wait a minute, I am the Pope."
The Archbishop may reflect in days to come, as he tries to avert schism in an unravelling Anglican Communion, on the vicissitudes of his job.
When he was marked out as a frontrunner for the role of leading the Anglican Church five years ago, Dr Williams said that he did not want the job. Yet Dr Williams as reluctant appointee does not fit entirely with the image described by those at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
As Bishop of Monmouth then, Dr Williams presented a key paper to the conference on making moral decisions. He also spent time with almost everyone there. It is said that the only other bishop who worked the circuit as effectively was another favourite for Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres.
A decade on, and there is a strong possibility that when the three-week Lambeth Conference at Kent University in Canterbury ends, the worldwide Anglican Communion and its 38 provinces will be farther apart than ever. The divisions are already clear, not least on the invitation list: of the 880 bishops invited, 230 have declined.
Last night the Archbishop's troubles grew when the seven primates leading the boycott of Lambeth issued a powerful and unequivocal statement affirming biblical orthodoxy and condemning "false teaching which justifies sin in the name of Christianity".
The primates - who included the Most Rev Peter Akinola, of Nigeria, the Most Rev Emmanuel Kolini, of Rwanda; the Most Rev Benjamin Nzimbi, of Kenya; and the Most Rev Henry Orombi of Uganda - were the leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, a rival to Lambeth that led to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans being set up.
In their statement, a direct attack on Dr Williams, they said that the false teaching being pursued by "many" in the Anglican Communion had "led to unbiblical practice in faith and morals, resulting in impaired and broken communion".
The primates described Dr Williams's proposals for a covenant that would provide a common doctrine on which all 38 provinces could agree as containing "serious theological flaws".
Dr Williams has expressed "great grief" that more than 200 bishops are boycotting the event and referred to this as a "wound" to the meeting. Yet his mood generally can be said to be buoyant.
Asked by The Times at the launch party for a book by his wife, Jane, how things were going, Dr Williams said: "Don't ask." When congratulated on signs of peace among the bishops after just one day of prayer, Bible study and lectures at Canterbury Cathedral, he said: "It's nothing to do with me, it is all down to the cathedral."
Such comments were typical of his self-deprecating humour. The impression of an indecisive man wringing his hands in futile despair is not entirely false. The picture is multilayered.
Dr Williams is cheerful, confident and thriving on the ultimate challenge that could be presented to any church leader. The Anglican Communion is a cross he has to bear, but in the Christian theology of the Cross, he carries it happily and with conviction.
And the Archbishop - who believes that God takes care of the results only if His people put in the footwork - is engineering a daring and complex plan. Work is afoot on a canon law "blueprint", that would provide a basis for legislative unity. It is likely to become a fifth "instrument of communion" to bind the Church, adding to the four that exist - the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the primates.
Moderate conservatives are also drawing up plans to allow overseas primates to function in co-operation with the Episcopal Church of the USA as pastors for evangelical churches offended by the liberal direction. It is hoped that the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, might agree to this.
This would leave the primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, who have flouted the authority of Bishop Jefferts Schori by illicitly consecrating bishops to serve in the US, out in the cold but would permit moderate evangelical bishops and provinces, to stay in the communion with integrity.
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