Whoever replaces Rowan Williams will need to be brave… as long as he’s not an a mission
What sort of man – for man it will be – does the church need at the see of Canterbury to succeed Rowan Williams?
He should be learned but with a populist touch; a man of prayer as well as a man of action; a sensitive pastor with a hide of leather; a good manager but also a visionary leader with a servant heart; decisive yet subtle; a poet, a prelate, a star performer. In other words, he needs to be “a realised impossibility” as George Bernard Shaw said of William Temple when he was appointed to the job in 1942.
One thing we know is this. He will be a currently serving bishop. This makes it easy for editors to assemble the longlist of candidates and for punters to get the odds. To be honest, they look a dreary lot. But maybe that’s also a prerequisite for high office nowadays.
Two names will be selected to go forward to the prime minister and one of them, in due course, will be the 105th archbishop. Whoever gets it, I hope he wants it. He will have my support. But actually, will it make much difference to my life as a parish priest in Hackney?
The thing about the Church of England is that it has a big bottom. It really exists in parishes and gatherings of the faithful in communities up and down the country. Our deliberative assemblies are slow-moving, consensual and largely operate on the principle of subsidiarity. You can see the wheels of decision-making turning. This can make us ridiculous to the outsider, but also resistant to the blandishments of head office.
Clergy are very wary of a bishop with a strategic plan, let alone an archbishop on a goddamn mission. One reason that the London diocese has flourished in recent years, so research tells us, is its culture of benign support for a range of diverse initiatives on the ground. Another reason is the growth in the number of black Christians in our pews. My parish, like most in this part of London, has members drawn from most of the Caribbean islands as well as West African countries. They were raised as Anglicans and are loyal servants of the church.
Through travelling parishioners, I have exchanged stoles (a vestment) with a Ghanaian bishop as well as a Jamaican archdeacon. Although I rarely leave my small patch of east London I feel part of a global communion.
How does an archbishop hold these two together, the local and the global? With difficulty. Over the last 10 years, these relationships have been strained through theological differences over homosexuality and it is a disagreement that is not going to disappear quickly. It seems to represent too much.
But my hope is this: that the Church of England recognises how beneath this network of global relationships lies a pattern of colonial expansion and economic exploitation, a pattern that is replicated still today. A number of my parishioners find it hard to make mass on Sunday because they are too busy cleaning the offices of the financiers of the City of London.
Can we talk about capitalism? Will we allow our new archbishop to speak of its barbaric heart? Will he have a disruptive candour as well as an easy charm? Maybe a couple of the candidates might. I hope they make it to the shortlist.
This parish priest, Fr. William Taylor, from Hackney in the diocese of London, gives us a clergy-eye view of what he expects (wants) of the person who will succeed ++Rowan Williams as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
In his ‘Comment is Free’ article in this week’s ‘Guardian’, Fr.Taylor is hoping for someone with ‘candour and charm’ – qualities not lacking in the present incumbent of the position – which he sees as of vital importance for the next Archbishop, if only to convince the Church of England of its call to be ‘all things to all people’.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand