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Hallo again to all.

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has his own website, distinct from the related websites of the Anglican Communion Office, and the Church of England. It is maintained by his press office, but the original web design was by two Anglicans Online people, Cynthia McFarland and Simon Sarmiento. That fact is noted somewhere on the website in small print.

Take me to your LeaderOne of the pieces of information that many people believe to be missing from Dr Williams' website is his email address. If you use a search engine to search for 'Archbishop of Canterbury', the results page does not link to any site that comes out and says 'E-mail correspondence is not yet available', like the Queen's website does. Dr Williams' website says 'Contact details / The Press Office, Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU / Tel: 020 7898 1200 / Fax: 020 7261 1765'. Indeed, Dr Williams does not use email. We've only met him in person and shaken his hand once, but we're in occasional contact with his press secretary, Jonathan Jennings, and we're quite certain that Dr Williams does not participate in internet email. We offer no opinion as to whether this is good or bad, simply noting that it is.

A goodly number of people simply refuse to believe that any public figure is not reachable by email, and go to extraordinary lengths searching the internet for the secret email address. Quite often, they find us, in one or another of our roles. During Dr Williams' tenure as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, we have received, by one path or another, hundreds of emails addressed to him. We read them carefully, having made the assumption that anyone who knows Rowan Williams well enough to write a private note to him will know better than to send it to us. Mailing letters to Santa in the hope of an answerUnless the message is scatological, puerile, or extensively quotes Rush Limbaugh, we refer the sender to the Archbishop's press office as noted above. Sometimes they believe us and sometimes they don't. Once a few years ago when we issued our usual terse referral, the sender shot back within moments, angry, asserting 'Rowan, I know that's you! You can't hide behind fake names like "postmaster".' Into the rubbish bin.

We are fascinated by the assumptions behind the fervent attempts to contact Dr Williams and the nature of the messages. We suppose that it's no accident that almost all of the notes that are sent to us are fervent, because a casual writer would not spend the time and energy needed to reach the complex and false conclusion that email sent to us will be handed to the Archbishop over tea. And fervency usually accompanies opposition; no one is going to work very hard to find an email address to say 'Decent job, old chap!' That sort of commentary gets written in blogs, usually in the vain hope that someone somewhere will read it.

The vast majority of the messages to Dr Williams that were sent to us have fallen into one of these categories:

  • You are terrible and you will rot in Hell for your coddling of gay people.
  • You are terrible and you will rot in Hell for your betraying the faith of gay people.
  • Your church is terrible because it is not <some denomination>.
  • Your church is terrible and all of its members will rot in Hell.
  • How dare you call yourself a Christian when you don't believe in the Bible?
  • I live in <underdeveloped country> and I'd like to become an Anglican priest. What do I do?
  • I'd like to invite you to an event; where should I mail the invitation?

Most of the letter-writers made the implicit assumption that there is a global Anglican church and that the Archbishop of Canterbury is, if not its Pope, its CEO. In the stereotype of a fictional landing of space aliens on Earth, the first words out of their mouth are (in English) 'Take me to your leader'. That concept pervades these emails. Like the space aliens, the email writers want to communicate with our leader, and are unwilling or unable to believe that there is no Anglican pope, no king or president with power over all of the others.† We find it comforting, by the way, that the Archbishop's website does not have a Corporate aura about it, and does not try to position him as the Anglican CEO.

Canada Post has for several decades operated a program in which letters sent to Santa Claus are answered. We wonder whether Anglicans Online should begin organizing volunteers to answer letters sent to the Anglican CEO.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 13 January 2008

†We shouldn't be awfully surprised by this, as some Anglican bishops seem to have made the same mistake.

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