Hallo again to all.
No doubt you have all heard of the planned retirement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. If not, please see our News Centre and then come back to finish reading this letter. The newspapers of the English-speaking world, especially in Britain, are abuzz with discussions of the past, present, and future of this historic office and its occupant. Anglican discussion groups 'round the world are filled with gossip and guesses, speculation and surmise. No doubt pubs and parish coffee hours are filled with the same discussion. It is Topic A everywhere we turn, and we must confess that we find this a much more pleasant and intellectually rewarding topic than terrorism, sexuality, or national politics.
Is the position of Archbishop of Canterbury as important as we Anglicans like to think? More so than any other bishopric? Does it matter in any sub specie aeternitatis way?
Yes. We think it matters. Especially in today's high-speed global culture. There is little time and less patience for complexity and subtlety. The Anglican Communion and its member churches are often seen as enigmatic and closed and mysterious from the outside. The world wants there to exist a spokesman for every organisation and concept. The world's media frequently turn to the Archbishop of Canterbury as a spokesman when there is a crisis or a celebration. He stands for something, not just in the eyes of Anglicans but in the eyes of people looking at Anglicans. If our church is to make any sort of impression on the larger world, it will benefit tremendously from having a symbolic leader, an archbishop, who can command the great gift of clear communication in public media, communicating complex ideas in simple form without dumbing them down. A great communicator can do justice to complexity in the brilliance of easy clarity.
We are not arguing that the next archbishop be chosen to be a telegenic media spokesman. The very thought makes us shudder. Heaven forfend. The pastoral and the prophetic, the scholarly and pious, these should never be relegated to the background or neglected in favour of talk-show glibness. There will be time for white papers, report, debate in synods, conference of church insidersall the places where the next archbishop can be brilliant. He must know how to manage the province and church of which he is formal leader. There will be demands on him every day that will call for the greatest and most sensitive of pastoral skills, and here the next archbishop will exercise his role as shepherd. But no matter how gifted he is at all of these roles, unless this man, this priest, this bishop can also articulate to the world and to the national churches of which he is primus inter pares just what it means to be Anglican, we worry that our beloved communion may not last out the 21st century.
This post must be filled by a mortal, of course, and the mangers in Bethlehem seem all to be empty these days. The old English folk song 'Scarborough Fair' describes poetically the impossibility of perfection:
May we be blessed with an archbishop who has a compelling and yet human presence, and is a reminder of that Love which is Perfection indeed. We think that the right leader could make all of us want to follow.
See you next week.
Last updated: 13 January 2002