Stop doing that which is pulling us apart - Archbishop of Canterbury appeals in interview

Photo: Abp John Chew (Southeast Asia) in conversation with Abp Rowan Williams prior to their meeting with the Prime Minister

During the Archbishop Rowan Williams’ recent visit to Singapore, he shared his thoughts in an interview with Lucilla Teoh for the Diocese of Singapore’s Diocesan Digest.

Q – Firstly, what are your first impressions of the Anglican Church in Southeast Asia?

A – What strikes me most is the tremendous commitment of the church here to growth. I have been hearing quite a little bit about the outreach of Singapore to Cambodia,  Thailand, to the Karen refugees in Thailand, to Nepal, all the work around the whole region. I think it is a wonderful model and I am very impressed with the energy, and the Cathedral seems to be very much. It is at the heart of that energy, thanks to the work of the Dean.

Q – I know you had a very short visit to the Church in Sri Lanka but can you share on how the rest of the Communion can pray for this part of the Anglican family?

A – In Sri Lanka,  there’s a desperate need for prayers for peace and reconciliation. Fortunately,  the church still has some credibility with both sides of the conflict. The church includes people from both major racial groups. The Bishop of Colombo,  our bishop in Colombo,  has enormous moral stature as a mediator and in some ways, respected and trusted. So I think I would ask people to pray for a softening of hearts of some of the Buddhist authorities, for honesty in government in facing the depth of the crisis, help for those in the refugee camps, the displaced persons around the island who are suffering naturally from fear, hunger and other material needs..

Q – Yesterday you gave a public lecture on “Public Religion and the Common Good,” how can the church actively find a voice in the secular world or in a secular state? I think this church-state divide has been the hallmark of the 20th,  21st Century, but increasingly we are finding that this is not helpful.

A – No, I think if you have a model of the state in which the state is the final court of appeal in all moral and human affairs, that is very dangerous, and as you have said a very 20th Century idea. I think the state is always like a mediating power, a power that draws out from people what their convictions are in their primary communities, which are communities of faith and other association, and then uses those insights and those convictions for the common good. I think that can happen. And I think some governments are a bit more willing to ask about how you use the real resources of faith for peace, a stable community and stable family life too.

Q – I know your visit here has been brief but any thoughts on how the church here can be more actively involved in affairs of the state?

A – As you say,  I’ve been here for a very short time and it’s impossible to say anything very useful. But I think that the church’s willingness to hold together an evangelistic and social ministry here is very important. The church is showing that it is an agent for social healing, not just for individual conversion. And I think that’s an important point to get across to the government.

Q – How about interfaith dialogue, because that has been coming up a lot?

A – It’s a big priority in Britain and I have quite a commitment worldwide on this. At the moment, of course,  dialogue with Islam is very much at the top of the list and quite a lot of energy in the last couple of years had gone into simply trying to remove Muslim misunderstanding. I’ve given two lectures in Islamic Universities in the last couple of years to try to explain the Christian faith and that is part of the task and because a lot of hostility comes from sheer misinformation. So yes,  it’s something that I want to carry on doing. I find there are more and more interesting questions arising about Muslim attitudes to law and society which I want to understand and engage with. As I have been saying during the last few days, I think there are a number of areas where Christians and Muslims can show common concern in society, which is around education, the family and the environment.

Q – The next big question is on the current crisis in the Communion. I think rather than looking at it as something that splits the Communion, how can we go beyond that and see how the church here can help towards a resolution, if any?

A – Let me make respond with two comments on that. First of all, I think it’s important for the church here to continue talking to people in other parts of the world, to know what the feelings, convictions, and concerns are of the people here. And that can only happen if we go on meeting. It doesn’t mean we agree, it doesn’t mean this is where we want to be, but people have somehow to be able to grow to understand. So, I hope the church will continue to exchange and talk about these convictions. Secondly,  I think the church here certainly shows the Communion that the real focus on mission is the life blood of the church. I was able, nearly 10 years ago, to work at the last Lambeth Conference very closely with the former Archbishop Yong Ping Chung, and we together led the section on mission and evangelism.  And I think I can say it was the most productive of all the sections in terms of energy and positive commitment. I think the whole Communion needs to rethink its life in terms of priority of mission and the issues that are currently dividing us. There are issues that are taking us away from the mission concern,  that sometimes undermines mission. I think the church here helpfully reminds the rest of us of that priority. So I hope they will hold that up for us.

Q – So how do you see then things developing pre-Lambeth 2008 and post-Lambeth? If you can make a wish, what will that be?

A – I’m hoping and praying that we shall have no more actions that polarize the Communion between now and Lambeth 2008. This is the point I have already brought to the Canadian House of Bishops which we are trying to get across to the American House of Bishops. But also trying to say to some other provinces: Don’t step up the level of intervention in this crisis because all of that is just pulling us further and further apart. So I hope we can have a bit of moratorium on this,  and in a way, a reflection on what kind of a church we want to be.     Now, some parts of the Communion would be happy if we could be just a federation of loosely connected local bodies. I’m not happy with that. We could be more than that. We should be more than that.  We should be living out of each other’s life and resources and vision and be more closely connected. Because I think that is what the New Testament assumes the local church should do and not live in isolation. They lived with each other,  from each other’s life. So, that’s my vision.
I see the next Lambeth Conference ideally as the place where Bishops can really be re-equipped for their central task of enabling mission and in every sense educating the people of God and equipping them for their outreach. That’s how I can see it.

Q – This actually gets you to my next question. Do you think therefore a sort of centrally driven or some sort of concerted organized effort through the Primates or Province representatives?

A – I think at the moment we are in a very confused state with the structure of the Anglican Communion. People turn to the Primates because there doesn’t seem to be anything else that works, a forum for people’s interest,  that meets regularly, that can assemble at short notice, which can work together. At the same time, I don’t think the Primates’ Meeting ought to be isolated from other bodies. And I have some hope for the integration of the Primates in the Anglican Consultative Council. Perhaps that will give us a better tool. I think we do need in our shared counsel the voices of priests and lay people as well as Primates and bishops. And the challenge is how to find a structure that will help us cohere in that way. We have some good examples. In fact the meeting of the Theological Education group that has been going on in Singapore this weekend brings together bishops, priests, lay people for a common task around the Communion which is not driven I think by a London-based or a New York-based agenda. It’s owned by everybody. It’s quite a good model. I think we need that sense of the whole Communion setting the agenda and getting away from the suspicion, right or wrong, that the agenda’s been fixed from somewhere else.

Q – So I suppose that’s basically how you see it right now in terms of encouraging the provinces to take more initiative?

A – Oh yes. I think, as I said, with the integration with ACC is in principle a good idea. We just need to make it work properly. I think in the next two years, let’s say, up to the Lambeth Conference, there needs to be quite a lot of thinking of how we make our common structure work better for us,  to concentrate our energy where they need to be concentrated and to give us a way of dealing with crisis that isn’t just reactive.

Q – Well, there’s going to be a Biblical Civilization Conference here next year. Any comments on that?

A – I find the idea very exciting. Archbishop Chew has talked to me a bit about it and I think that to remind people that biblical faith has been a foundation for civilization for a vital creative culture because it has a vital creative view of human being. It is a wonderful thing to get across.

Q – With so many things on your plate, what do you think are the most critical things you need to focus on as Archbishop in the short term?

A – In the Church of England, the biggest most positive focus is the project that we call Fresh Expressions, an initiative for networking and resourcing church planting across the country.  We have raised almost £1 mil over the last couple of years. And that’s a 5-year project which is well advanced and showing very good results. That’s constantly in my mind, in my prayer, that’s what I want to focus on. In practical terms, the Church of England is facing a great deal of self-examination and some anxiety about the possibility of ordaining women as bishops and managing that process, making sure all voices are heard as we make up our minds, that’s a practical concern. And nationally and internationally, as you know I have a big concern about theological education,  I want to see not only ordained ministers but every baptized person well-equipped to understand and communicate their faith. So that’s where I see it, the real focus.

Q –The last question is on a more personal note. It must have been challenging for you as the Archbishop of Canterbury. I can only imagine, with the intensity of the work, etc. Could you share with us the source of your strength? How have you coped with the demands of being Archbishop of Canterbury?

A – Turn to Psalm 121. Funnily enough, the first two psalms I ever learned were Psalm 121 and Psalm 84 and so they still have a particular meaning for me. And it’s important to me to begin everyday with enough silence with God to give me some resource for the day, to make sure that the pattern of the daily offices is kept up, the Holy Communion nearly every day, these are the things that sustain me. But also very simply, things like making sure I have time to listen to music occasionally and some time to spend with my wife and my children,  especially my 11-year old son who is a great source of inspiration to me. Diocesan Digest@2007

3 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Editorial Says:

    We will certainly keep listening and seek to understand.

    In the same spirit, some feedback may be helpful.

    1. The Diocese of Singapore will continue the example of placing priority in Mission. However, the same can be also said of many African Provinces which have all along been strong in Mission work. In fact, we are inspired by them. While the attention given to the crisis it may give the appearance that some are distracted, it is my observation that this is not true. For example, the Church in Nigeria continue to be very busy with Mission work, many often serving under strenuous conditions.

    2. If Mission is to be given priority at Lambeth , it has to be borne in mind that some Provinces are already so engaged in Missions that to just ‘talk about it’ is not meaningful. In fact, in my Provinces (and I am sure, in many others as well), we have Mission conferences aplenty. Will Lambeth be just another one of those? Or should a this rare ten yearly meeting be used for some strategic significance which will make a real difference for the whole Communion? I am not saying Missions should not be discussed at all but how that is done in the light of the the life of the whole Communion. Perhaps, if Missions is to be highlighted, we can talk about dealing with the hindrances e.g. the difficulties which the 2003 crisis has posed for our witness worldwide, the lack of clarity of Christian beliefs and role of the Church (if so, what ‘missions’ are we talking about?) etc. If the Windsor understanding of the need for the proposed Covenant is to prevent future crisis by allowing Provinces to hold each other accountable, then that should be followed through and settled at Lambeth. This could help prevent ‘future major hindrances’ to the Mission and witness of the church. On this ground alone, I cannot see any reason why any local Church will not sign up to it.

    3. Now, it is true that the crisis is distracting, esp for those serving in the highest echelons of leadership. The solution then is not to drag it out but to come to a firm decision so that we can all get on with our work. As ABp Henry Orombi has wished before Tanzania mtg, we all need an end to this. The Tanzania Communique is hopeful, though it has postponed the issue for yet a few more months. Now we will all wait and see whether there is sufficient leadership resolve to see it through. 

    4. On issue of Primates and lay/clergy reps: We can be certain that in most Provinces, the Primate has been duly appointed and through a long process of sifting from the ground up. That means it is likely that the person chosen is well trained theologically, has good ground ministry experience   , godly and most importantly, a true representative of the Province. He is respected and is held accountable. He is expected to report back and ensuring that things discussed ‘up there’ is reported back and followed through by his own local Church. While this is not to say that a lay rep cannot do likewise, chances are (and that is indeed true if one is to observed), a ‘rep’ may be chosen centrally (London, N York?) and not duly appointed by the Province herself. This rep is not likely to speak on behalf of the Province nor able to interact with his colleagues. Also, while one should not read hidden agendas in the way reps are chosen, a system of central selection will of course allow for one which is based on a centrally pre-determined criteria..thus ‘the same kind gathers.’ I believe that the situation is improving but the role of the Primates remain a critical one in our Communion. I don’t think it is a question of convenience. The Primates are incredibly busy and it is hard to gather them. It is a question of responsibility and providing the pastoral leadership needed, esp in moments of crisis. They are after all, servants of the Church. As for the Primates right of Provincial representation, it has been suggested that Synodical resolutions are necessary to ‘empower’ the Primate before he deals with Communion issues. I find this strange. A good and respected Primate   should be trusted to do what is right without the need to keep ‘calling back home.’

    5. Coming back to the ‘solution’ to the crisis, we all know the situation is complicated. I won’t repeat the issues here. But we will all be helped , lest we forget, what caused it in the first place. Deal firmly with that, and doors will be open later for genuine reconciliation and stronger partnerships to be form for the future. Leave that hanging, and the Communion will continue to bleed. 

    6. There are related issues to deal with and these will need longterm solutions e.g. the ‘two-church’ situation in ECUSA. Those closer to the situation are better able to judge as to what is necessary but it is just a naturally Christian and Anglican thing for us here (in Asia) to give fellowship and support to those of similar faith and upholding the traditional ethos and beliefs of the Church. This does not necessary mean unconventional cross-boundary interventions. Some has felt it necessary to do so but I believe we can trust their repeated refrain that these are just temporary pastoral actions which should cease once new directions are set. 

    I trust these statement are received in the light of open discussion and helping each other to come nearer to the truth.

    Humbly yours,

    Canon Terry Wong

  2. Stanley Isaacs Says:

    I associate myself fully with the comments made by Canon Terry Wong. There is clearly a lack of will to ‘take the bull by the horn’ concerning the issue of human sexuality and the church so that the Communion can put that issue aside firmly and squarely and get on with the real purpose of the church on earth. There is an obvious fear that were we to do that the Communnion will be fractured. My view as a layman is that if Christ is indeed lord of the Church and the Church is His, then He would know how to preserve the integrity of His Church against those who seek to manipulate His word and defile His Church. All that Christ desires is that those who know Him and understands His word by its plain meaning would stand up for His Church without compromise. When ABP Rowan Williams pleads for ‘a moratorium ‘before Lambeth 2008, he seems to hope that time will resolve the issue. In the meantime let us not ‘ruffle feathers’ so that Lambeth will be a success.This is sad to say the least.

    I agree that ACC should be represented by all Primates as ex-officio for the same reasons that Canon Terry has expoused. I gave the same reasons when I urged ACC 13 which I attended last year as the sole representative of the Province of South East Asia. While I am convinced that lay participation in ACC is important for the wholesome development of the church in the Communion, I felt it unfair that many of the smaller or newer provinces were allowed to be represented by a lay person only.The strange thing is that although ACC 13 voted to include all primates as ex-officio subject to ammendments to the Constitution, there was the Chairman of ACC, Bishop John Patterson going to the US soon after, telling the
    people of ECUSA that that proposal is not likely to succeed maintaining that in his view ACC must not be overwhelmed by the Primates. Here is politics in motion in the church.

    Dato’ Stanley Isaacs
    ACC Lay Representative, SEA.

  3. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Politics in the Cuurch isn’t new. Neither is homosexuality. TEC’s arrogant insistance that it is being “prophetic” in advocating rights for non-celibate homosexuals has torn the fabric of teh Communion and has broken the hearts of many faithful Episcopalians in the USA. I’m glad to say that Bible-believing, creedal Episcopalians are now taking the bull by the horns and doing what is necessary to preserve the old Anglicanism before it is lost forever.

    The Dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin are not alone in their stand against TEC’s false goospel. Read the Orlando Declaration, and the Affirmation of St. Louis if you want to be encouraged. Read The Continuum blog to see that there is much vitality, even in the circumstance of division.