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Archbishop resigns after ten years of ‘crisis management’

21 March 2012

by Ed Thornton

Looking forward: Dr Williams laughs as he talks to young members of the congregation at the Springfield Church, Wallington, in Surrey, last Sunday PA

Looking forward: Dr Williams laughs as he talks to young members of the congregation at the Springfield Church, Wallington, in Surrey, last Sunday PA

THE Archbishop of Canterbury will step down at the end of the year, Lambeth Palace announced last Friday. Dr Williams is to become the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, from January 2013.

Rumours began to circulate early on Friday morning that an announcement from Lambeth Palace was imminent. A statement was issued shortly before 10.30 a.m. by Dr Williams’s press officer. It said that Dr Williams’s intentions had been conveyed to the Queen, and that he would continue to carry out duties until the end of the year.

Dr Williams said: “It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision. During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond.

“I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry.

“I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to con­tinuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead.”

Shortly after the announcement, the Prime Minister said that Dr Williams had “sought to unite different communities and offer a profoundly humane sense of moral leadership that was respected by people of all faiths and none”.

In an interview with the Press Association, published the same day, Dr Williams said that a number of “watersheds” this year — including the final stage of the women-bishops legislation, and a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in the autumn — made it “a reasonable moment to at least think about moving on”. Given a “credible and attractive” opportunity to take up a new post, “it seemed right to think about it.”

The next Lambeth Conference, in 2018, also featured in his thinking. “I certainly felt I needed a good five years to get myself ready for the last Lambeth Conference . . . and I’m very eager to let my successor have a good run-up to that.”

“Crisis management”, in particular over issues of sexuality, had never been “a favourite activity”, Dr Williams said. “But it’s not as if that has overshadowed everything. . . I can’t say that it’s a great sense of ‘free at last’.”

Nevertheless, there had been “con­flicts that won’t go away, however long you struggle with them”, he said. “Not everybody in the Anglican Communion, or even in the Church of England, is eager to avoid schism or separation.” He recommended that his successor should have “the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros”.

Dr Williams said that he would look back “with greatest satisfaction” on the launch of Fresh Expressions and the establishment of the Anglican Alliance. The “opportunity of travel­ling in the Anglican Communion” had also been a highlight, “most poignantly, last year in Zimbabwe” (News, 14 October).

Reflecting on the place of Chris­tianity in national life, Dr Williams said that there was “a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity which sometimes clouds the discussion”; but he did not believe that “there’s somehow a single great argument that the Church is losing.”

Nevertheless, there were many people “of a certain generation who don’t really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular. And that leads to confusions and sensitivities in the wrong areas — you know, does wearing a cross offend people who have no faith or non-Christians? I don’t think it does, but people worry that it will, and that’s partly because there’s a slight tone-deafness about how religious belief works.”

Dr Williams reiterated his call for an “argumentative democracy”, and hoped to “contribute to that public discussion” at Cambridge.

Dr Williams is 61. When he was appointed, aged 52, he indicated that he was unlikely to stay in post until retirement age. Speculation that he would retire early emerged last year. The Sunday Telegraph reported that he had “told friends” that he was ready to leave Lambeth in 2012 to retire early to academic life (News, 16 September 2011).

He has long had close links with Cambridge. He studied theology as an undergraduate at Christ’s College, was a tutor at Westcott House from 1977 to 1980, and was a lecturer in the School of Divinity from 1980 to 1986. From 1984 to 1986, he was Dean and Chaplain of Clare College. Dr Williams and his wife, Jane, met while they were living and working in Cambridge.

Magdalene College said in a statement that Dr Williams had “the capacity and vision to guide the College in a time of unprecedented change in higher education. . . Dr Williams will also work with Fellows and staff in the vital task of increasing access and widening participation to students from every background and walk of life.”

Question of the week: Is Dr Williams retiring too early as Archbishop of Canterbury?

Canterbury: the process

THE Crown Nominations Com­mission (CNC, formerly the Crown Appointments Commission) is re­sponsi­ble for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, writes Ed Thornton.

From 1976 to 2007, the CNC passed two names to the Prime Min­ister, usually in order of pref­erence. The PM had the power to recommend either candidate to the Queen, or to reject both and ask for further nom­inations. In 2007, Gordon Brown surrendered the power to have the decisive say in the nomination of diocesan bishops and archbishops. The convention now is that the PM com­mends the name preferred by the Commission to the Queen. A second name is passed to the PM, in case cir­cum­stances mean that the CNC’s recommended can­didate cannot be appointed.

For the appointment of an Arch­bishop of Canterbury, the CNC is com­posed of 16 voting members:

  • A lay person to chair the Com­mission, appointed by the PM; he or she must be a communicant member of the Church of England.

  • A member of the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Commu­n­ion, who is elected by the Commun­ion’s Standing Committee.  

  • A bishop chosen by the House of Bishops.

  • The Archbishop of York, or, if he chooses not to be a member, another bishop chosen by the House of Bishops.

  • Six representatives from the dio­cese of Canterbury, elected by its vacancy-in-see committee.

  • Six representatives — three clergy and three lay — of the General Synod. These currently are: Laity: Professor Glynn Harrison (Bristol), Mary John­ston (London), Aiden Hargreaves-Smith (London); Clergy: the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn (Southwark), Canon Peter Spiers (Liverpool), and Canon Glyn Webster (York).

The term of the six Synod mem­bers of the CNC comes to an end in July. Because work on the Canterbury vacancy will have started, the six will see through the process.

Before the CNC first meets, probably towards the end of May, it will hold an extensive consultation process. An announcement in the church press will invite members of the public to suggest names.

Candidates are not expected to apply to be the Archbishop of Canter­bury. Instead, after collecting names during the consultation process, mem­bers of the Commission suggest candidates to consider. Since the Archbishop of Canterbury is auto­matically a member of the House of Lords, candidates must be British, Irish, or citizens of the Common­wealth. The candidates must also be male: even if the women-bishops legislation receives final approval in July, it will not come into force until at least late 2013.

It is likely that, for the first time, candidates will be interviewed. The CNC has piloted interviews for the diocesan bishops since 2010, which have been judged a welcome addition to the discernment process.

It is expected that the name of the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be announced in the autumn. This would enable the next Archbishop to be in office as soon as possible.

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