One of the more glaring ambiguities of being the Established Church is the qualities, attributes and skills required to be a leader who is able to face two different directions at the same time, work with two sets of pragmatic principles which are likely to get in the way of core convictions that don't easily survive compromise. I am thinking of Rowan Williams, a man in whom deep spirituality, theological scholarship, personal holiness and ecclesial conviction leave him deeply unprepared for the maneouverings and compromises, the moral ambiguities and relational ruthlessness that seems to be required to prosper in the arena of politics, ecclesial or state.
He comes to the end of his tenure soon, and there will be those who will do an audit on his performance as Archbishop. For myself, I think there need to be two audits, appraisals, or reviews whichever term we prefer. And the criteria for assessment cannot possibly be the same in both spheres, the political and the ecclesial. As a spiritual leader of worldwide Anglicanism he cannot escape political engagement within and beyond the concerns of the Church; but neither can he surrender principles of spiritual conviction, theological commitment and Gospel imperatives. It is that dichotomy of foundational commitments that have always made the role of Archbishop of Canterbury impossible to fulfil to the satisfaction of everyone. That's before we talk about being the leader of a culturally diverse, theologically broad, historically compromised organisation whose foundation beliefs are vigorously contested in the postmodern marketplace of alternative narratives.
Holiness has little value as political currency; prayer and spirituality by definition are not power tools at committee level, where pragmatic instrumentalism is a primary virtue; theological wisdom and erudition, even when combined with moral imagination in exploring the cultural and ethical minefields facing an ancient church travelling across the terrain of the contemporary world, do not carry decisive authority. It is near impossible to speak with Christian integrity and a political correctness all will approve. Indeed there is a plurality of political correctness which underlies the polarities and conflicts of much contemporary ethical and theological debate. Clashes of fundamentalism tend to crush those who stand between them as mediatior - Christians of all people should know that. The photo above captures someone whose surprise, laughter and sense of the ridiculous are emphatically not out of place in someone asked to do the impossible as a routine expectation.
I leave to others to judge the contribution of a good man in an impossible role, though I would ask them to be careful of Jesus words about being judged by the same measures we judge others. For myself I am grateful to Rowan Williams for accepting a vocation from God that for his years as Archbishop of Canterbury, has gone against the grain of a spiritually faithful intellect. His term has exposed him to dilemmas of labyrinthine complexity, and at times has made him in turns unpopular, ridiculed, deemed irrelevant, focus of anger. But he has demonstrated the incompatibility of being a leader in Church and State. And he has done so by speaking and arguing out of a resilient and generous faith, by manifesting holiness as both practical and costly and ultimately different from mere goodwill however astute, and by a rootedness in his own tradition that does not need to diminish or exclude those of other traditions and faiths.
I leave you with one of those momkents of brilliance that say so much about the faith and faithfulness of Rowan Williams.
Rowan Williams once brilliantly compared prayer to sunbathing. "When you're lying on the beach something is happening, something that has nothing to do with how you feel or how hard you're trying. You're not going to get a better tan by screwing up your eyes and concentrating. You give the time, and that's it. All you have to do is turn up. And then things change, at their own pace. You simply have to be there where the light can get at you."
I pray that at the next stage of his ministry, there will be time for such sunbathing.