Breaking: Rowan Williams stepping down at year's end

UPDATED: Rowan Williams will step down as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012 to become head of Magdalene College at Cambridge.

Lambeth Palace has a news release. An extract:

"It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision. During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond. I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry. I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead."

Dr Williams will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury, both for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, until the end of the year.

The Crown Nominations Commission will consider in due course the selection of a successor.

The Archbishop of York says at his website:

.... Our partnership in the gospel over the past six years has been the most creative period of my ministry. It has been life-giving to have led missions together, gone on retreats and prayed together. In his company I have drunk deeply from the wells of God’s mercy and love and it has all been joyful. He is a real brother to me in Christ.

The last decade has been a challenging time for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Thankfully, Archbishop Rowan is a remarkable and gifted leader who has strengthened the bonds of affection. Despite his courageous, tireless and holy endeavour, he has been much maligned by people who should have known better. For my part he has been God’s apostle for our time.

The BBC reports here.

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols comments here.

From NPR reports and links to others:

Williams, 61, became the church's 104th archbishop in 2002.

The Guardian notes that "his time in office has been marked by a slowly growing schism in the worldwide Anglican church which he has failed to heal."

During his tenure, the Church of England voted to allow women to become bishops — a move that was opposed by many Anglicans.

And as The Independent writes, "his departure [also] comes after tensions within the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality." But, the newspaper adds:

"He denied that there was a 'great sense of free at last' in view of the long-running battles between liberals and traditionalists over the issue of gays within the Anglican Communion.

" 'Crisis management is never a favorite activity,' [the archbishop said]. 'I have to admit, but it is not as if that has overshadowed everything. It has certainly been a major nuisance. But in every job that you are in there are controversies and conflicts and this one isn't going to go away in a hurry.' "

The Guardian adds that "the bookies' favorite to succeed him is the archbishop of York, John Sentamu."

From The Independent:

Other possible contenders to replace Dr Williams include Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London.

Dr Chartres, 64, who is close to members of the Royal Family, gave the address at the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last year and is known for campaigning on environmental issues.

Liverpool-born the Rt Rev Nick Baines, 54, Bishop of Bradford, is also viewed as a contender for the post.

Highly educated and articulate, he is known as the "blogging" bishop, in recognition of his enthusiastic approach to using new media.

The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, 65, Bishop of Leicester, who leads the Church of England bishops in the House of Lords, and has recently clashed with the Government over the proposed benefits cap, could also be a possible contender

Another name mentioned is Graham James, the bishop of Norwich

From the Guardian, Williams is reported to say about his successor:

"I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really.

"But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a church which for all its problems is still, for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration.

"I think the Church of England is a great treasure. I wish my successor well in the stewardship of it."

Thinking Anglicans notes Procedures for appointing the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
More reactions below:

The New Statesman:

By announcing his resignation now, rather than (as had been expected) after this summer's Jubilee celebrations, Williams will at least avoid being seen to have quit in response to a humiliating failure. But he may well still be in post when the General Synod gives its final approval for the consecration of women as bishops. This would be a proud legacy to take his leave on. Yet the instinctively Anglo-Catholic Williams will also be acutely conscious of the implications of the move for the Church of England (facing yet more splits and Romeward defections) and for wider efforts towards Christian unity. The question is another of the many circles that his immensely subtle theological mind has never quite managed to square.

A statement from the Prime Minister.

A statement from Magdalene College:

Magdalene College, in the University of Cambridge, is delighted to announce that the 35th Master of Magdalene will be The Most Reverend and Right Honorable Dr Rowan Williams PC, FBA, FRSL.

The College has been fortunate in benefitting from the outstanding leadership of Mr Duncan Robinson CBE FSA,DL for the past ten years, during which time the academic standing of the College has been greatly enhanced, substantial efforts have been made to promote access, and a major new Court has been built, providing twenty-first century facilities.
The College looks forward to the Mastership of Dr Williams who has the capacity and vision to guide the College in a time of unprecedented change in higher education. His very distinguished record, both as a scholar and a public figure, will provide for the whole community a model of the high standards of achievement to which Magdalene is committed. Dr Williams will also work with Fellows and staff in the vital task of increasing access and widening participation to students from every background and walk of life.

Commenting on the appointment, the current Master says “I congratulate the Fellowship on the appointment of Rowan Williams. The College is fortunate to have recruited as Master someone of such outstanding intellectual stature, and such profound commitment to public service, especially at a time when collegiate Cambridge faces so many challenges. I wish him every success in the post it has been both my privilege and my pleasure to hold for the past ten years. My wife and I look forward to welcoming the Williamses to Magdalene.”

Currently trending on Twitter.

Comments (21)

With any luck this scuttles the Anglican Covenant, when the Capt. Leaves the sinking ship before the passengers are safely off, his word is unlikely to carry much weight.

A disappointing tenure.

I believe the timing is related to the voting on the Anglican Covenant currently happening in diocesan synods in the Church of England. In order for the Covenant to fail in synods, 22 dioceses need to vote against it. So far 17 have and five more dioceses were slated to vote this weekend with more coming up the next. It seems to me this resignation is an acknowledgment that the Covenant will fail in the CofE. And the failure of that is an implicit rejection of Williams leadership.

Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

Before there is too much rejoicing, take a look at some of the possible successors. Scary!

Indeed, Bp. Epting. As disappointed as I may be in the way that +Rowan has tried to manage our current conflict, I still prefer him over many/most of those mentioned as possible successors. Which brings us to the question of how much authority are we granting to a bishop appointed by a government in a foreign land anyway? Yes, Cantuar has a place as Primus inter Pares when the bishops gather in council. But we have already created a quasi-pope out of Cantuar by our affectations. One of the chief objections to the proposed covenant is that it would create a Roman curia for the Communion. And that is a deserved critique, IMHO. But if we do not want Roman authority granted to the institutions in the center of our Communion, then why do we expect so much from Cantuar?

Possible successors? Sentamu has just jumped in at the deep end on the gay marriage issue, to which the Conservative government appears to be firmly committed (how times change!) and Chartres, unless I have missed something recently, has yet, after 20 years as a bishop - sixteen of them as the third most senior bishop of the Church of England - to ordain a woman to the priesthood. With the female bishops issue as hot and as popular as it is, this may not help.

I agree with Chris! This might be good timing concerning the Covenant, but the communion might end with greater problems.

Archbishop Williams is clearly an incredibly bright lad with a first rate education. He appears indefatigable in his commitment to Christ’s Church and The Communion. I have quoted him (not often mind you) on my own small parochial scale, for example, from his address on The Day of Prayer and Action for Children. (One hope Williams will raise his concerns about vulnerable children with His Holiness).

Williams, at St. Paul’s l with in the walls, recently preached a Christ who demands a place “where all feel at home, where God is at home, where all human beings are at home.” It’s a great insight; but coming from the Archbishop it is something of a latent hope wrapped in disappointing irony.

One may rightfully ask about the manufacture of religious consent represented by the proposed Covenant. One may rightfully ask about attempts at unrequited love directed towards an Ordinariate peddling Vatican while female colleagues in his own communion are asked to place their miter firmly under their arm. One may rightfully question if the vision of The Communion the ABC is working for so tirelessly for is one where GLBT people are “at home”?

Does raising these issues constitute a personal slam against His Grace? I don’t think so. Rather, it raises legitimate questions about the judgments rendered to The Communion by one in a significant position of leadership. Even the erudite can be mistaken, off side, suffer from tunnel vision on occasion—their erudition simply allowing them to go big when they go. Perhaps the les erudite among us, especially those who have been made to feel like we need to clear the sanctuary, may therefore be forgiven for our irascibility in the face of some of Williams’ positions.

I would not be too scared. One of the things that people seem to forget is that the office of ABC is intimately tied to the schedule for Lambeth Conferences (next one is scheduled for 2018). The second thing that people forget is that C of E clergy are required to retire at 70. The third thing that people forget is that the office of ABC is filled according to the law of Buggins' Turn. An Anglo-Catholic is normally succeeded by an Evangelical. Williams is broadly Anglo-Catholic, just as George Carey is Evangelical. And the final thing they forget is that each new officeholder in the C of E is picked to remedy the shortcomings of his or her predecessor.

Thus, Chartres is too old--he will be pushing 66 (born in July 1947) when the next ABC is enthroned. John Sentamu will be 64...again, too old as he will barely make the next Lambeth before he will have to retire. Stevens is also too old. The only candidate mentioned who is not ruled out by age is Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford, translated from Croydon in my diocese. He is a brilliant communicator and, thus, the exact opposite of the ABC, who is densely packed at best and woolly and impenetrable at worst. He is of an age (54) where he could easily make the next Lambeth Conference. He is very pastoral and made a great Bishop of Croydon.

Another candidate not mentioned is Christopher Cocksworth, the Bishop of Coventry. One year younger than Nick Baines, he is an Open Evangelical but thought by some to be a bit too conservative.

So, when people mention candidates, note their age and their churchmanship before considering them to be hot favourites for Lambeth.

Before people fret too much over who the next ABC will be, and what the successor's viewpoints on issues are, remember what we thought of Dr. Williams before his election. He was considered a progressive in his views on sexuality. Remember how N.T. Wright was highly respected among progressive theologians until some of the sexuality controversies. At the same time, many people who were thought to be conservatives have taken office and turned out to take liberal stances (think Pope John XXIII). We never know how someone will act until s/he is in office.

We also need to remember that human sexuality and the Anglican Covenant are not the only things that the Church will be facing in the next ten or so years. We can't see what issues will face the next Archbishop or how that Archbishop will handle them, until that time.

The most we can do is pray for and uphold that person when elected and know that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Church will go on.

Thanks Chris and Matthew. One thing we do know is that there will be no s/he - only he.

Ann, while I intuitively know that you are right, I never want to put any barriers before the Spirit. The wind blows where it chooses. It's also just a good writing habit to say s/he instead of he.

The issue with the ABC is his lack of real leadership. Real leadership means taking a principled stand and ensuring that all folks have a seat at the table, a chance to be heard, and to be treated with respect. Williams' approach, which seems to be one of appeasement combined with pressure on those with whom his disagrees, smacks of a relatively powerless mid-level bureaucrat who lacks a vision for the future. Thus, the whole construct has been, "Agree to the Covenant and we'll go from there." But to what end? With what goal?

As to Sentamu, I agree. His statements are illogical and divisive, and these is little to recommend him. Let's just hope we are not going from bad to worse. Or worse to utterly dreadful.

Eric Bonetti

For the inability of anyone to predict what an Archbishop of Canterbury will do or say or support once in the throne, we have only to remember Thomas a Becket ...

Outside-of-the-box pick for next Archbishop: Thabo Makgoba, archbishop of Cape Town.

Young(ish), educated, well-spoken, and looks (kind of) like Denzel Washington.

excellent idea, Jesse.

AB Thabo Makgoba

Please God, no. He is no friend of TEC nor the GLBTQ communities.

Bro. David
KONY 2012

As a fairly recent convert to the Episcopal church (2009), I don't know much about what happens next so I have a question: How much say does the British Monarch and Parliament have in the election of the next Arch Bishop?

I came from the Roman Catholic church, so I am fairly familiar with how they do it (Conclave and all) having been through it with the passing of John Paul II.

Nicholas - the procedure is here

Thank you VERY much for the info Ann! I'm a very procedural person (I am a computer programmer after all) so I always like to know what will happen (:

Sorry, one more question:

I read the document about what will happen now that Arch Bishop Rowans has announced his retirement, and I see that the Arch Bishop of York will take over responsibilities if there is no replacement by the start of the new year.

I know that Arch Bishop Sentamu is very conservative, and isn't very happy with the Episcopal Church USA's stance on homosexuality.

Could he kick us out of the Anglican Communion if he were to come to power? What would that do to us?

The Archbishop cannot do this by himself. He can exert a lot of power on other bodies but there really is no system for kicking Provinces out.

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