As Williams' tenure assessed, attention turns to possible successor

Gender and sexuality issues defined Rowan Williams' decade as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion. With the news that he will step down at the end of 2012, attention is focused on who will be his successor.

Rowan Williams
Rowan Williams

His announcement on 16 March came a day after the government opened a consultation on whether to allow same-sex marriages in England and Wales and at the start of celebrations marking the 60th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Williams said he will take up the position of Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, effective January 2013.

Appointed in 2002, Williams' decade-long tenure early faced controversy over whether homosexuality is contrary to biblical orthodoxy. In 2003, an openly gay man, Jeffrey John, was appointed Bishop of Reading, but was pressured to withdraw, and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church approved the election of an openly-gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. In the Anglican Church of Canada, the Diocese of New Westminster, in British Columbia, approved in 2002 blessing rites for gay couples.

Conservative parishes and dioceses in both countries split with the established churches, seeking to join conservative Anglican churches abroad in South America and Africa. Williams sought to keep the parties talking, notably at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. However, a proposed Anglican Covenant put forward by conservatives is meeting resistance from liberals who see it as a threat to the autonomy of their local churches.

In his own Church of England, the ordination of women to the episcopate was introduced and controversy covered whether any accommodation would be made for traditionalists. In 2008, Williams angered conservatives by starting a debate about Sharia law, asserting that the U.K. had to face up to the fact that many of its citizens did not relate to the British legal system.

Throughout his career, Williams has said that his main aim was to return confidence in the Church of England.

Ruth Gledhill, religion affairs correspondent of The Times, told the BBC on 16 March that Williams "is like an early church father who has come out of history in order to bring the Christian message alive for the present day. The real tragedy is that this has not come across at the political level … The tragedy of Rowan Williams is that he is a man of enormous gifts that the world and the church has failed to appreciate because of the schismatic battles in his own church and, it has to be said, because of the way he dealt with those battles."

Whoever succeeds Williams, it will be a man, although the Church of England synod this summer is widely expected to take the final legislative steps to allow women to be appointed bishops.

Two names mentioned prominently as possible successors are the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who is from Uganda and would be the first black Archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

However, Sentamu is 62 and Chartres is 64 (both older than Williams is currently) and observers noted that given the usual retirement age of 70 for Church of England bishops, they may be considered too old.

Other names mentioned are Graham James, the bishop of Norwich, 61; Nicholas Baines, the bishop of Bradford, 54, and Christopher Cocksworth, the bishop of Coventry, 53.

As Williams fulfills the final nine months of his tenure, members of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) will meet and consider the selection of his successor.

The CNC submits the name of a preferred candidate to the prime minister, who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen. One she has approved the candidate and he has indicated his willingness to serve, the prime minister will announce the name of the archbishop-designate.

Asked during an interview on 16 March with Britain's Press Association if he had a favoured successor, Williams replied, "I'd like the successor that God would like. I think it's a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor had the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros really! 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 and I think the Church of England is a great treasure."


Post published in: Africa News

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