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The Archbishop of Canterbury: Dr Williams’s ministry and his successor

28 March 2012


From the Revd Dr Stephen Spencer

Sir, — As the news of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s resignation sinks in, so sadness also takes hold that we will lose a man of self-evident prayerfulness and pastoral charity at the centre of our Church. Many of us may not have agreed with the Archbishop’s policy initiatives, but, set against the holiness of his Christian life, this seems unimportant.

Why, then, do reports and conversations about his resignation generally speak of failure? Why do so many assume that it is right that he is stepping down? Does this not show that we have come to hold a distorted view of what an Archbishop of Canterbury should be?

It seems that the Church of England has become increasingly influenced by business culture, and more and more associates leadership with the chief-executive type of appointment — a leader who dynamically drives an organisation forward towards profit, whatever the human cost. But the Church is not a business. In the blind scrum to come up with the name of a successor, we have lost sight of something far more important behind any process of head-hunting: a patient and heart-searching period of discern­ment, across the whole Church, of whether we wish again to appoint someone to this kind of post, in which he will inevitably fail, or whether we need to re-envisage the post in a way that allows prayerful­ness and pastoral wisdom to be key points of a new job description.

Could we not be led to see that policy initiatives and their implementation properly reside with the Church as a whole, as repre­sented by its various synods and councils? Out of Christian compas­sion, let us not put someone forward for a role that he will never be able to fulfil: let us catch a new and deeper vision of what we most need from a new Archbishop.

The Vicarage, 2 St John Street
West Yorkshire HD6 1HN

From the Revd Dr David Heywood

Sir, — I would like to take issue with some of the judgements expressed in your leading article last week.

First, the Decade of Evangelism was neither the particular brainchild nor pet project of Archbishop Carey. It was urged at the Lambeth Confer­ence in particular by bishops from overseas, while the Roman Catholic Church had its own Decade of Evangelisation.

Second, the Decade was far from fruitless. It saw the introduction of Emmaus courses, the spectacular growth of Alpha, and the beginning of what has become a widespread acceptance of, and burgeoning of, confidence in community mission. It also saw tentative acceptance of the legitimacy of church-planting. Most important of all, these developments were either based on, or provided a stimulus for, genuine theological engagement with issues of mission and evangelism.

And, third, the Decade of Evangelism and its continuing impact was very far from being the defining aspect of Lord Carey’s period as Archbishop. He inherited a Church weakened by poor financial management, and took rapid and decisive steps to remedy the situation. He recognised the way that years of indecision over women’s ordination had caused division and haemorrhaged morale, and threw his weight behind a resolution of the issue. He also recognised as a serious issue the virtual impossibility of providing effective leadership to the Church, and set up a study of its decision-making structures.

Ripon College
Cuddesdon OX44 9EX

From Canon Wealands Bell

Sir, — Professor Holman’s suggestion that, on leaving Lambeth, Dr Williams should “opt to be alongside poor people in a poor neighbourhood” rather than return to Academia is breathtaking.

Clearly, the Church must be alongside the poor: the Church must be, and is, everywhere. But we are not all called to the same work, and no ministry can say to another, “We have no need of thee.” The growing suggestion that value can be found only in a Franciscan charism, an activist lifestyle, and a Comic Sans aesthetic is singularly tiresome, and contrary to scripture and tradition: the Church has many limbs and organs, and there really are diversities of gifts.

23 The Close, Lichfield WS13 7LD

From the Revd John Parkin

Sir, — I am grateful to the Revd Lee Gatiss for reminding us (Letters, 23 March) of the lovely quotation from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s book Open to Judgement: God is like “a spastic child who can communicate nothing but his presence and his inarticulate wanting”.

This is an accurate, 21st-century simile reflecting those all-important biblical images: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” — the Gospel records of the silence of Christ before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, and those few haunting words from the Cross.

In countless ways, Dr Williams is thoroughly Bible-based. So why does Mr Gatiss accuse him of being “devoid of Anglican faith and morals” and preaching “a travesty of historic Christianity”?

68 Louth Road, Horncastle
Lincs LN9 5LJ

From the Revd Richard Adams

Sir, — I am fascinated by the fact that all the readers’ letters published last week about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s retirement are so negative. Surely some readers cannot have failed to notice the man’s Christlikeness? It seems to me that his way of being Archbishop (i.e., being himself) has acted like a mirror and shown the rest of us in the Anglican Communion what a fractious and negative lot we are —to our shame, I hope.

Tros y Mor, Llangoed
Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8SB

From the Revd John Carmyllie

Sir, — Unlike Professor Bob Holman, I rejoiced to hear of Dr Williams’s appointment to Cambridge. Not because I would want him to leave Lambeth for a moment, but because if ever an Archbishop deserved the reward (albeit an interim one) of returning to his beloved Academia at the end of his service, then he surely does.

Far from regretting his decision, we should be joining in a rousing chorus of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

7 Holbeck, Astley
Manchester M29 7DU

From the Revd Dr David L. Gosling

Sir, — One of the few bishops I have ever admired, John V. Taylor, once commented to me that “No man has ever been improved by becoming a bishop.”

As the Crown Nominations Commission searches for a successor to a distinguished Archbishop whose tenure I would not have wished upon our most seasoned military top brass in Afghanistan, I hope that the Commissioners will perform their task regardless of the bleatings of those who are already lining up their favoured candidates.

In addition to their customary investigations, I would like the Commissioners to consider what each candidate might have achieved in public life had he not gone into the ministry, usually at an early age.

2 St Luke’s Mews
Searle Street
Cambridge CB4 3DF

From Thelma Aldcroft

Sir, — Hands off our Scottish Primus, C of E! (“Canterbury — a few to watch”, News, 23 March). We remember the effect of the awful 1998 Lambeth Conference on a previous and beloved Primus, the Rt Revd Richard Holloway. The C of E then took the saintly Dr Rowan Williams from Wales (hoping he would clear up the mess?), and we have observed the toll that his ten long years have taken on him.

Some of us would like to save Bishop David Chillingworth from the same fate. How about it if the C of E found its own sacrificial victim next time? On the other hand, his experience of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland, from whence we snatched him. . . Oh dear! Have I just undermined my case?

14 Cherry Lane, Cupar
Fife KY15 5DA

From Mr John Harper

Sir, — Adrian Stott (Letters, 23 March) rightly draws attention to the grave financial position in which the Church now finds itself.

At a recent diocesan meeting of treasurers, all seven of my sub-group’s parishes were having to pay their share, continuously, out of reserves. This is common over the whole country. A reluctance to face up to the realities of this position is almost universal among senior churchmen.

Duplication of effort across 43 dioceses is currently inevitable, and, while the concept of centralisation may be abhorrent to most of us, there is a crucial need for standardisation and urgency of response in the treatment of issues as they arise, apart from cost-saving. An agglomeration of dioceses into much larger units is no longer an option that can be pushed aside.

Reform is also needed in the basis of election of both diocesan synods and the General Synod. Other changes are needed, too. Unless a start on these matters is begun urgently, then the Bishop of Southwell’s warnings last July are in severe danger of becoming a reality.

Reform and the surrender of autocracy, in part, will not be comfortable for bishops already in place, after centuries of tradition, but this can be the only way forward. It is in this context that those drawing up a list of candidates for Dr Williams’s successor would do well to cast their net towards other candidates of a more radical, realistic, and robust turn of mind, beyond the episcopal bench.

North Gables, 103 Altwood Road
Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 4QD

From the Revd Dr Stanley Monkhouse

Sir, — I like Mr Stott’s comments (Letters, 23 March) concerning the need to halve costs and put money back into the parishes. Here, in Cashel & Ossory, formed from six smaller dioceses, there are 33 incumbents, one bishop, and one part-time secretary for an area much the same as the dioceses of Derby, Southwell, and Lichfield combined.

No advisers chivvying parish clergy to engage in self-justifying gimmickry; no resources being sucked from parishes to pay for them. Was it not the proposed merging of Irish dioceses in the 1830s that set in chain events leading to the Oxford Movement? Maybe that would be just the thing. . .

The Rectory, Coote Street,
Portlaoise, Co. Laois, Ireland

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