Rowan Williams is no longer archbishop of Canterbury but that doesn’t mean we can’t still write about him! I was struck by the conjunction of two things: that Williams was a theologian whose work always emphasized ecclesiology and that he served as archbishop in the middle of what might be called an ecclesiological crisis. That interest gave rise to the recent article published in Ecclesiology titled, “Patiently Living with Difference: Rowan Williams’ Archiepiscopal Ecclesiology and the Proposed Anglican Covenant”:
“…we have reviewed Williams’ goal of mature, trust-full relationships in which people recognize that they must receive from those who are different to them even as they acknowledge their inability to do so. This is a compelling vision for the world of the twenty-first century, and a deeply prophetic one that deserves to be preached and made the basis of the church’s existence. The way to do so is not, I think, to insist upon adoption of a particular document and limited set of principles. Rather, the solution seems to be to articulate this vision while patiently honoring its process, a Williamsian solution if there ever was one. This will not please all Anglicans nor will it necessarily diminish the damaging rhetoric that abounds on all sides. But Williams’ own words seem pertinent here: ‘Even in local and prosaic settings, how very tempting it is to say that we want our results now, before the end of the year. We have to justify what we’re doing in the shortest of short terms and that is a curse for churches, universities, charities, community regeneration projects, all sorts of things in our society. And we need deep breaths and long views again.’ Ultimately, perhaps, as the covenant dies, the Communion can take a few deep breaths and return to the long view embodied most compellingly in Williams’ own work.
Williams’s tenure was marked by an inability to say “I have no need of you” — even and especially when so many others were demanding that he do precisely that. This deeply biblical position is surely at the root of any legacy Williams leaves and is, moreover, the place to begin building a church that is “more truly itself.”
There’s no shortage of writing by and about Williams, and for that I am grateful—even when I contribute to that list!