Archbishop of Canterbury steps down

Archbishop of Canterbury steps down

Archbishop Rowan Williams has announced his acceptance of the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge with effect from January 2013.

He will therefore be stepping down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December 2012.

Dr Williams was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002.

He said:

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.

Dr Williams’ decision comes after ten years in the post.

The Archbishop is the Focus of Unity for the Anglican Communion. He is convener and host of the Lambeth Conference, President of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and Chair of the Primates’ meeting. In these roles he travels extensively throughout the Anglican Communion, visiting provinces and dioceses, and supporting and encouraging the witness of the Church in very diverse contexts.

As primus inter pares among the bishops, he has a special concern for those in episcopal ministry.

Following the announcement, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Canon Kenneth Kearon wrote to members of the Standing Committee informing them of the decision.

He asked them to remember Archbishop Rowan and his family during this time of transition and reflected on the Primate’s time in office saying it had “coincided with a period of turmoil, change and development in the Anglican Communion, and his careful leadership, deeply rooted in spirituality and theology, has strengthened and inspired us all in the Communion during this time.”

Archbishop Williams’s announcement means that ACC-15 in New Zealand during the last quarter of this year will be his last as President of the ACC.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu said he was saddened to hear the news: “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.”

Magdalene College

Archbishop Williams will be the 35th Master of Magdalene College, succeeding Duncan Robinson, who has held the post for the past ten years. Early in Archbishop Williams’ career, he taught theology at Cambridge and, in 1984, became dean and chaplain of Clare College at Cambridge.

The university awarded him an honorary doctorate in divinity in 2006. He also holds degrees from Oxford University.

The college said Archbishop Williams’ “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.”

In a news release posted on its website, the college said Archbishop Williams will work with staff “in the vital task of increasing access and widening participation to students from every background and walk of life.”

Archbishop Williams commented in a statement that he is “very grateful to the college for the honour they have done me, and look forward to being part of such a lively and intellectually rigorous community. I hope I shall be able to continue the exciting developments that have been taking place under the present Master.”

The college’s website states that there has been a continuous tradition of academic study on its site since 1428. It was re-founded in 1542 and is now includes some 350 undergraduates, 180 graduate students and 80 Fellows, together with 90 administrative and other staff.


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.

His announcement on March 16 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.

Archbishop 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 US-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. Archbishop 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, Archbishop 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, Archbishop 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 March 16 that Archbishop 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 Archbishop 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 Archbishop 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 Archbishop Williams fulfils 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 March 16 with Britain’s Press Association if he had a favoured successor, Archbishop 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.”

Career of scholarship

Rowan Williams’ decision to resign the post of Archbishop of Canterbury and accept a position at Cambridge University represents a departure from Anglican Communion controversies and a return to an academic environment that has embraced the noted theologian, scholar and poet throughout his career.

Archbishop Williams has presided over a tumultuous age, seeking to hold the worldwide, 77 million-member Anglican Communion together as disagreements over homosexuality and biblical orthodoxy threaten to tear it apart.

“The worst aspects of the job, I think, have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won’t go away, however long you struggle with them,” Archbishop Williams told Britain’s Press Association after the resignation announcement.

Archbishop Williams first came to attention as a scholar and writer. Born in Wales on 14 June 1950, he studied theology at Cambridge and earned a doctor of philosophy degree in 1975 at Oxford University. His intellectual gifts became apparent early and he was already teaching theology at Cambridge when he was ordained deacon in 1977 and priest in 1978.

While at Cambridge, he served a local church, St George’s Chesterton, for three years, then became dean and chaplain of Clare College. At the relatively young age of 36, he was named to the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity at Oxford University, where he was awarded the degree of doctor of divinity in 1989.

In 1991, Archbishop Williams was elected Bishop of Monmouth of the Church in Wales and elected Archbishop of Wales in 1999. In 2002, when he succeeded George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was the first bishop since the 16th century to be elected from outside the Church of England.

He is a scholar of the early church theologians known as the Church Fathers and on the history of Christian spirituality. His doctoral studies focused on Vladimir Lossky, a prominent 20th century Russian Orthodox theologian.

Archbishop Williams has expressed liberal views on social issues, participating in anti-nuclear demonstrations and expressing progressive opinions on homosexuality and the Bible, while holding orthodox views on Christianity.

He told a magazine interviewer, in response to liberal US bishop John Shelby Spong, that “I am genuinely a lot more conservative than he would like me to be. Take the Resurrection. I think he has said that of course I know what all the reputable scholars think on the subject and therefore when I talk about the risen body I must mean something other than the empty tomb. But I don’t. I don’t know how to persuade him, but I really don’t.”

However, his views on homosexuality seemed to become more conservative as he sought to hold the Anglican Communion together and he has expressed a profound commitment to the idea of the church. At times, his leadership seemed to please neither liberals nor conservatives, some of whom said he seemed more comfortable in the world of academia rather than the realm of global church politics.

His leadership of the decennial Lambeth Conference in 2008 introduced the concept of “indaba,” or “purposeful discussion”, a concept aimed at getting the bishops of the Communion to relate to one another rather than depend upon legislative solutions to disagreements.

Archbishop Williams also took several ecumenical steps during his tenure, attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II and meeting several times with his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, most recently on March 10 in Rome.

His writings have ranged widely, including articles, sermons, lectures and books, on such secular issues as the current economic crisis, terrorism and the place of modern Islam and on a broad range of religious topics.

He is also a noted poet and translator of poetry, with the volume “The Poems of Rowan Williams” containing translations of Welsh poetry. On September 11, 2001, he was due to give a lecture a few blocks from the World Trade Center in New York, subsequently levelled by terrorist attacks. His book, Writing in the Dust, reflected on the event. He is said to speak or read 11 languages, including Hebrew, Latin and ancient and modern Greek.

He will join the seventh-oldest college at Cambridge, as Magdalene dates its founding to 1428, and as Master supervise more than 500 undergraduate and graduate students, 80 Fellows (teachers and researchers) and 90 staff. In its announcement, the college referred to Archbishop Williams’ “outstanding intellectual stature” and “very distinguished record, both as a scholar and a public figure.”

He and his wife, Jane, a writer and theologian in her own right, have been married since 1981 and have a son and a daughter.


Following an announcement from Lambeth Palace, London, that Dr Rowan Williams will be stepping down from his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, the World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed admiration for the archbishop’s ongoing leadership and his significant contribution to the ecumenical movement spanned over several years.

The WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said of Archbishop Williams, “We are thankful for the leadership he has provided and will continue to provide to the church and the ecumenical movement in his role as Archbishop of Canterbury. His strong commitment to the unity of the church and the common work for justice and peace remains steadfast and part of his ongoing ministry. We wish him well in the next phase of his ministry.”

Tveit went on to say, “The archbishop is a prolific author, public intellectual, and articulate spokesperson for matters related to the unity of a living and relevant faith. Rowan Williams’ sphere of contribution and influence on moral, ethical and social issues is expansive.”

“We at the WCC are grateful for his recent visit to the Ecumenical Centre; it was an inspiring time to strengthen ongoing relationships and explore new possibilities,” added Tveit.

Interview with Press Association

Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke to the Press Association following the announcement that he will step down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December 2012 to take up the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.


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