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Archbishop compares C of E to shouting family

01 March 2013


THE Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that he has "no magic wand", and that there is "no silver bullet" to resolve the conflicts in the Church of England or the Anglican Communion.

Speaking to the Church Times at the "Faith in Conflict" conference at Coventry Cathedral, Archbishop Welby sought to play down the "huge expectation" that people had placed on his experience of conflict-resolution. He said that he could only "help to set the tone".

He said that he would seek to put his past work in reconciliation to good use. Nevertheless, he continued: "Reconciliation is never ever delivered by one person or a group of people. Reconciliation is something that is done by people in the conflict with each other.

"Sometimes somebody provides marginal help in facilitating that. I have sometimes been able to provide marginal help in facilitating people to reconcile, but they reconcile.

"The people involved in working on reconciliation do not reconcile. They enable people to find safe space where they can deal with their issues; they enable people to listen to one another . . . but they aren't the reconcilers; the reconcilers are the people involved in the conflict."

The Archbishop began planning the conference while he was the Bishop of Durham, before he knew that he was to become Archbishop. He described the timing - his first big public event since his appointment - as "providential" rather than "accidental".

In a session closed to the press, the conference delegates saw an interview between the Revd Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, which is now part of the Anglican Church of North America, and the Bishop of Virginia, the Rt Revd Shannon Johnston. There has been litigation between the parish and diocese; and the pair spoke of their experiences.

"It was very obvious to all of us who were there last night: the profound commitment to one another; and the remaining deep difference with one another," Archbishop Welby said. "That was conflict being handled brilliantly. They clearly see it as the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit - that they have been enabled to deal with conflict. The conflict continues, but there is a very obvious deep love that is a powerful example to the world around.

"If the Church generally can learn - and I believe we certainly can, many people are - to be more like that; evangelism comes out of that, where people say: 'These aren't a bunch of clones who all think the same. They are people who think very differently from one another, but see how these people love one another.'"

He said that the lessons from Virginia could be applied to "some of the big issues we are arguing about at the moment in the Church of England". About the ordination of women to the episcopate, he said: "It is absolutely essential that we speak truthfully in a way that demonstrates that we belong to one another rather than in a way that suggests we should expel each other, or that we are somehow lesser because we differ."

The Archbishop recalled comments from the Rt Revd Sandy Millar, a former Rector of Holy Trinity, Brompton, who said that the miracle of the Church was not that like-minded people got along; but that entirely unlikely people were able to come together and serve God together.

"We are not good at doing it sometimes; but actually, most of the time we are quite good at doing it," Archbishop Welby said. "One of the problems of the Church of England is that we have our arguments very loudly in public. Lots of other groups have the same level of argument, but in infuriated whispers in private. We shout at each other quite a lot.

"You find families like this: some families argue by yelling; other families sulk, silently. It is by no means clear that yelling is worse: it is just rather more obvious."

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