By Jim Naughton
The Archbishop of Canterbury is on a bit of a roll here at the Lambeth Conference. He has clearly established himself as the undisputed leader of this potentially fractious gathering of bishops, a fact perhaps best attested to by his peers bursting into spontaneous applause on two occassions--first after his presidential address at the opening of the conference, and again yesterday when a photographer asked him to take his place in the front row at the taking of yesterday's 'class picture.'
Williams' enhanced stature rests not on the assumption of a popular political position, but on what several bishops have described as the deep theological insights that he displayed during the conference-opening retreat, and on his commitment to a process that, despite hiccups, seems to be working.
Williams' faith in the process was most evident last night after evening prayer when he told the bishops and spouses assembled in the big blue tent, the central gathering place at the conference, that he was aware some of them were eager to begin the discussion of human sexuality that has been described as "the elephant in the room." However, he said that as soon as the issue was broached in the "indaba" groups, the primary forum for theological give-and-take, it was likely to dominate the remainder of the conference. Many bishops found other issues more pressing, Williams said, and he wanted to make sure those issues received their due.
Several members of the conference design team had suggested moving the discussion of sexuality forward on the schedule--It is scheduled to be discussed on Thursday.--but Williams, who believes the process is unfolding well--decided against it, telling the design team members to trust the process they had created.
Whether the archbishop's increasing influence over the gathering will endure three sessions of open hearings on contentious issues of sexuality and church authority scheduled for this week remains to be seen, but he enters the week with a strong hand.