God must have a sense of humour
After six years as Synod General Secretary, Andrew Williams has left that role, to join his family in Switzerland, and serve within the World Council of Churches’ ecumenical family.
The role of General Secretary is, in one word, challenging. It includes the difficult task of holding the theology of the Church along with its administration; often, these are in tension.
As we farewelled Andrew, we asked him to reflect on his time as General Secretary. He spoke candidly about his surprise at being called to the role, and also shared how his own faith has been affected. From the importance of finding new ways of engaging communities in the language of faith, to our Church’s wrestle with leadership, Andrew’s last Synod interview is eye-opening and vital.
INSIGHTS: Has the responsibility of leading the Synod personally informed your faith?
ANDREW WILLIAMS: I never anticipated having the role of Synod General Secretary. It wasn’t a job that I coveted or that I looked for. When I came back from the UK [after eight years] and I had some global experience and some wider experience, I worked in the local church where I thought I would finish my ministry and stay there to my retirement. Then I thought maybe I do have some experience to offer the wider Church. The role came up so I put my hat in the ring. Then I got to the second interview and I got the job. I had overnight to think about it. Was I serious? What would it mean? So it definitely felt like this was God leading me to this point. I didn’t think I would get it or that it was going to me.
What do you think God was saying at that point?
AW: I think God has a sense of humour! [I also thought at the time that] with my experience, perhaps this is a time for someone who can give leadership in a missional sense rather than a super—duper administrator. I have never suggested or claimed that I have any ability as a bureaucrat administrator! But I do have a passion for the mission of the Church and want the Church to thrive.
So that’s what I thought the selection committee was saying, by choosing me rather than someone who might have been a better administrator.
What do you mean by ‘God has a sense of humour’?
AW: God must have a sense of humour [to say], ‘I have chosen you for a job here.’ And then to get to the situation: ‘I have chosen you for the job in Sydney and your wife for the job in Geneva.’
I have been known to say jokingly at times, ‘Ministers are causing me to lose my faith.’
The earlier question you asked was about my faith. The role can be incredibly frustrating. At times it tests your faith in people and the Church. I have been known to say jokingly at times, ‘Ministers are causing me to lose my faith.’ One of the hardest things for me has been dealing with people who choose not to hear the voice of the Church. This is not to say, ‘I am the voice of the Church,’ but to say ‘I am entrusted to enact the voice of the Church through its Councils.’
Our Church believes that we act through our Councils and we are sometimes nervous about an individual having too much authority or power. But even then, it requires an individual to enact or follow through on the will of the Council and that’s what sometimes leads to tension and a reaction against the person or, in a sense, making it seem like it is personal. This is what tests my faith and what makes it difficult.
How has your faith gone, as you have faced such difficult situations?
AW: I hope that my faith has stayed strong through all of that. I have said it has been tested at a few points. I hope that, in the end, I still leave with a love for the Church and a confidence and a hope for what God’s doing with the Church.
The fact is that you have all these issues to address and you can’t keep everyone happy. Someone is going to be left unhappy at some point. Our system is so porous that it allows for constant appealing and constant pushing back. It is very hard to get a final decision. People can still chip away and undo a decision made.
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