This week is fairly ordinary in the Church calendar. It's lodged in what was once the no-man's land of the 'gesimas'—Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima—those early-warning Sundays indicating somewhat obliquely that Ash Wednesday was near. This week we honour also the obscure St Matthias the Apostle and the quintessential Anglican priest George Herbert. But this week, this year, will be most memorable, for Thursday, 27 February, AD 2003, on which Rowan Williams will be enthroned as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral.
'Enthroned'. 'Enthronement'. Funny words for a church that has done its best to shed titles, trappings of privilege, and the arcana of establishment. Yet 'enthronement' is indeed the term used still in England for the seating of a bishop or archbishop in his cathedral. We suspect that Dr Williams, he of black clerical shirts and modest demeanour, has some discomfort with the term. But then the world has some discomfort with bishops, in this soi-disant egalitarian age. The office combines authority with the expectation of obedience, leadership with the expectation of followers, and teaching with the expectation of learners.
Obedience, dutiful following, and humble learning do not come easily to 21st-century folk. We want our bishops in gorgeous vestments, but complain when we think those cost too much. We want our bishops to be compelling and worth minding, yet only when their positions agree with ours. We want to have our prelates and democratise them, too.
Rowan Douglas Williams may well be the person who has the best chance of combining these paradoxes harmoniously. He speaks naturally, yet with the easy authority of an Oxford don. He seems as if he would be quite comfortable in the neighbourhood pub, but equally at ease at Lambeth Palace. He wears his immense learning lightly and gracefully. If anyone can manage to make being enthroned seem a natural act, we suspect it will be Dr Williams.
Recently we saw a note referring to the 'enthornement' of Rowan Williams. Though it was surely a typographic error, it makes good sense to us. Enthornement indeed: this may well be the best word for that process, that ceremony, in which the full responsibility of this awe-ful office of Canterbury bears down on this one man. 'Remember that the mitre is also a crown of thorns', the old expression has it. On Thursday, dear friends, pray for Archbishop Rowan Williams, enthorned in his cathedral, sweet George Herbert's day, taking up cross and crown, thorns and all, for us.
May God bless the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury!
See you next week.
updated: 23 February 2003
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