November 29, 2012

In (Rare) Praise of Rowan Williams

I have not been a big fan of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. As he comes to the end of his tenure, however, I’d like to say a few words on his behalf. In this, I am inspired by a story from Anglican Ink titled “Archbishop of Canterbury defends ACC-15 from claims it is irrelevant.” The article reports on what the archbishop told the General Synod regarding the work of the recently concluded meeting in New Zealand of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The essence of Williams’ defense of what was done in Auckland can be seen in this excerpt:
The archbishop said the model employed at ACC-15 was akin to that he introduced to the 2008 Lambeth Conference were [where?] issues were not discussed so that conclusions or actions could be reached, but to give disparate voices a platform for their views to be heard.
Personally, I was greatly relieved that the 2008 Lambeth Conference did not assume a legislative role, a role that has been greatly misunderstood and misused in the past. I was particularly gratified (and surprised) that ACC-15 passed no resolution regarding the Anglican Covenant. A general discussion of the Covenant would, no doubt, have been acrimonious, and, at any rate, approval or rejection of the Covenant is out of the hands of the ACC. (Action by the ACC may eventually be called for when, as seems likely, the failure of the Covenant to be widely adopted becomes painfully apparent.)

Williams suggested that what was most important at the ACC meeting was not corporate decision-making but small-group discussions aimed at understanding one another:
It was his belief the communion did not need further “bureaucratic, public, administrative decision making” but was better served by the different factions of the church “reading the Bible together.”
Perhaps the archbishop has indeed learned a thing or two during his decade-long tenure. Moreover, his view of the future was something of a surprise:
Dr. Williams also spoke of the rising importance of the networks of the Anglican Communion, which represented “some of the most creative, most universally supported work that we do.”

The archbishop added that networks may be the future of the communion’s ecclesial structure replacing the current crop of “instruments of communion.”

“Perhaps the larger question that we’re up against is how do we hold together the burgeoning life of networks, alliances—less formal associations across the Communion—with the unavoidable need for decision-making and managing bodies,” he asked.
Networks, which have been much encouraged by the departing archbishop, are largely concerned with common mission rather than divisive theological issues. An emphasis on networks, along with a corresponding reduced role for the Instruments of Communion (especially the Archbishop of Canterbury) might make for a more effective, less contentious Anglican Communion. Perhaps “the need for decision-making and managing bodies” will be less than Rowan Williams imagines.

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