The challenge for a new Archbishop

A letter written to the Times on Monday from Peter Townley, Archdeacon of Pontefract, highlights the task facing a new Archbishop of Canterbury:


Cosmo Gordon Lang's biographer said of the office of  the Archbishop of Canterbury: "The job is really impossible for one man, yet only one man can do it". The successor to Rowan Williams needs all our prayers and support. We seem to be in such a mess: "lack of ordinands and funds ... the anomalous relation of Church to State ... the new morality … the indifference of people to the obligations of the faith…signs pointing to collapse." That was T.S. Eliot on the Lambeth Conference of 1930,  so the historical perspective gives us hope.

The challenges facing a new Archbishop reflect the breadth of the office.

Firstly, the Church of England. We can easily talk ourselves into decline: the model of death and resurrection is a world away from that of suicide and resurrection. We are apt to be unnecessarily apocalyptic. The shape of the church to come will be freer and more ecumenical. A key challenge for the Archbishop, working collegially, is to discern what kind of church God is calling us to be.

Secondly, the nation. Many point to the spiritual void at the heart of society. The new Archbishop will need to articulate the spiritual dimension but in a way which people understand. Britain is now firmly a part of Europe: Jacques Delors' challenge to the churches to help Europe find its soul still stands.

Thirdly, the Anglican Communion. The centre is being squeezed by the liberal ECUSA and conservative Africa. A key challenge is to define the nature of our Communion, the bonds of our affection and how we can be a parable of community in the world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is a world spiritual leader. Just as issues raised by globalisation and the environment need a theological heart, so in the quest for Christian unity the chief ecumenical challenge for the Archbishop will be that of Islam and the avoidance of a clash of civilisations.

Rowan Williams has served us in so many ways magnificently. His successor has quite an agenda and needs our best hopes and prayers.


The Ven Peter Townley,

Archdeacon of Pontefract

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