March 16, 2012

Goodbye, Rowan

Archbishop Rowan Williams has today announced his acceptance of the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge with effect from January 2013. He will therefore be stepping down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December 2012.
Thus begins a brief notice that appeared today on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Web site. A companion story from Anglican Communion News Service reminds us that
The Archbishop is the Focus of Unity for the Anglican Communion. He is convener and host of the Lambeth Conference, President of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and Chair of the Primates’ meeting. In these roles he travels extensively throughout the Anglican Communion, visiting provinces and dioceses, and supporting and encouraging the witness of the Church in very diverse contexts. As primus inter pares among the bishops, he has a special concern for those in episcopal ministry.
Rowan Williams
Photo by Brian
Rumors of Rowan’s retirement have been circulating for some time, so the announcement did not come as a surprise. Many were hoping, however, that he would leave his post earlier.

By retiring at the end of 2012, the archbishop will likely see through the final approval of women bishops in the Church of England, although he is still at odds with the General Synod as to how the introduction of women bishops should be implemented. He will chair a final meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in New Zealand later this year.

It is less clear what Rowan’s legacy will be respecting the proposed Anglican Covenant. It is highly likely that Church of England dioceses will vote not to send Covenant adoption back to this summer’s General Synod, thereby precluding the pact’s adoption on Rowan’s watch. Many have suggested that such a development will scuttle the Covenant project.

The archbishop’s announcement comes the day before five additional diocesan synods will be voting on the Covenant. Were all the dioceses to vote no on the Covenant, the matter could not return to this General Synod, which ends in 2015. That is unlikely, but it is probable that additional votes against the Covenant tomorrow will bring it closer to defeat in England. The timing of today’s announcement may have been chosen to avoid the embarrassment of resigning after a major defeat or in the hope that the announcement might have a salutary effect on the diocesan voting.

I will have more to say about Rowan Williams and the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at a later time. For now, I will simply say that, as “Focus of Unity,” Rowan has been an abject failure. His personal obsession with church unity led him to compromise his own principles and to appease radical elements within the Anglican Communion, leaving the Communion on the brink of disintegration.

Rowan  Williams’ tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury has been a disaster. He cannot leave office soon enough.


  1. A political analysis of ++Rowan's tenure in the Church of England and in the Communion will obviously be complicated. Both institutions are in deep distress and would have been so no matter who had taken St. Augustine's Chair in this era. I'm fascinated that the I think unseemly applause at this news seems to come equally from the left and right sides of the aisle. Perhaps we'll have a better perspective in 20 or 30 years, though as I sail into my 80's I may need someone then to read the commentaries to me over my morning Cheerios.

    As a Christian thinker, theologian, and spiritual leader, and as an effective and grace-filled person of prayer, only perhaps ++Michael Ramsey would stand out more prominently in our times. And as an ecumenical leader especially in the relationships with Rome and the Churches of the East I can't think of a better or more faithful leader.

    I imagine he'll now be able to devote himself more to writing and teaching, and I'm sure that will be a blessing after this long decade of storms.

    The early money is on Archbishop Sentamu of York. A Cambridge and Ridley Hall man, he would fill the niche in the customary alternation of Catholic and Evangelical ABC's, and as a native of Uganda he would of course be an interesting hat-tip both to the global Communion and to the increasingly diverse U.K. population. He is also a fine writer and careful theologian and would I think be a strong presence in the continuing disarray. I like him personally--but then, in the end it's Elizabeth Regina who gets the one and final vote. She probably would have preferred +Chartres of London, but he is a tad too old and wouldn't make it (with mandatory retirement) through Lambeth 2018.

    Bruce Robison


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