Friday, November 9, 2012

A-B-C: It's the Welbennium!

It's here and we like it?  The Welbennium!
Interesting juxtaposition this week for those of us who consider ourselves Americans and Anglicans:  two important choices were made.  Barack Obama was reelected president of the United States, and the Crown Nominations Commission  has forwarded the name of the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, to be nominated as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  Bishop Welby's announcement was made official on Friday, November 9.  COD, of course, greeted this with a big yawn, since  he called it back in September:  "COD doesn't need to handicap the field because it will either be Justin Welby or Christopher Cocksworth, unless it's someone else (all predictions guaranteed or your money back!)."  To bask in COD's powers of prognostication, as well as find out what happens next in how an ABC appointment works, here's a link to that post in full.

All that's left are the formalities -- the monarch confirming the appointment and issuing a conge d'elire (right to elect) to the cathedral chapter of Canterbury, authorizing them to elect the person who has been appointed.  After all these months, apparently, it's all over but the shouting.

But the shouting is sometimes important.

There are many, surely, wondering what to make of new Archbishop of Canterbury.  As usual, COD has a few thoughts.


But naturally COD will insert a story, as he is wont to do.  While he is on Twitter, COD prefers longform.

A flashback and comparison to Archbishop Rowan Williams' appointment is probably appropriate.  Crusty Old Dean was in Moscow when that happened, having just arrived as part of an Episcopal Church delegation to renew contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church (remember, Crusty speaks Russian and has a degree from an Orthodox seminary).  Though jetlagged and bleary-eyed, COD's philosophy is to fight through the time change and try to go to bed the first night in a new place close to your normal bedtime.  Even though I'd only had about four hours sleep in the past thirty hours, Crusty was sitting in the hotel restaurant when he saw a discarded copy of that day's International Herald Tribune, which, back in the pre-internet days, was how Americans in Europe found out who was leading the American League in batting average.  It had news of Archbishop Williams' appointment (yes, Crusty called him Archbishop Williams -- remember, he was Archbishop before becoming Archbishop).

COD chalked this up to his healthy concern about believing what you read while in Russia.  As an undergraduate student, I spent two different tours of duty studying abroad in Russia.   I had read about the freeing of Nelson Mandela and Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer and the death of Jim Henson and Buster Douglas defeating Mike Tyson in Soviet newspapers.   There's an old Russian joke, based on the name of the two leading newspapers of the Soviet era.  Pravda means "truth," and Izvestia means "news".  Given Soviet control of the media, the joke goes (when truth and news are capitalized, they refer to the newspaper): "Hey, what's your favorite newspaper?"  Response: "Doesn't matter, there's no truth in the News and no news in the Truth."

So Crusty was at first cautious about reading about something in a newspaper while within the boundaries of Russia -- had an initial, "C'mon, is this true?" moment.  That night, watching the BBC on the hotel TV, it was confirmed.

COD would gather that Archbishop Williams' appointment ten years ago was probably one of the first to be followed closely by the Communion as a whole, particularly by the Episcopal Church.  He would further suggest that if you went back further, and asked most Episcopalians in 1990 the name of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, you would have gotten a fair share of befuddlement.  This is due to a number of reasons, but mainly because of the sense that we were heading towards a showdown on questions of human sexuality and the whole concept of the Anglican Communion was more connected, present, and real due to globalization, the influence of bishops from the developing world, and the explosion of information in a digital age.  There was considerable anger in some quarters that the previous Archbishop, George Carey, in essence turned the 1998 Lambeth Conference into a legislative body, with reports and resolutions -- anger that he manipulated what had been a forum for discussion into a process to punish the Episcopal Church, with the Conference passing a resolution against same sex blessings and ordination of gay and lesbian persons.   Archbishop Williams' appointment was greeted with enthusiasm bordering on elation in some circles: here was someone who was considered friendly to LBGT issues, who had spent some time in the USA while teaching for a year at Yale, who had been in New York City on September 11th.  Correspondingly, there was disappointment and anger in some conservative circles; persons who had hoped for Michael Nazr-Ali, the other name submitted to Prime Minister Tony Blair.  As one conservative friend glumly told COD at the time, "Michael Nazr-Ali was the only hope of keeping the Communion together."

Archbishop Williams can now record that "MacArthur Park" Cover
As we consider what to make of this 106th Archbishop of Canterbury, it's helpful to think back on reactions to the appointment of the 105th -- and how things change.  Many persons who were elated at Archbishop Williams' appointment eventually became disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged, and downright hostile at times -- feeling that he had given up his principles on inclusion in the church for the sake of compromise with conservatives who weren't really interested in compromise.  Likewise, conservative despair and gloom in some ways deepened, feeling that Archbishop Williams did not take steps necessary in their eyes, with some faulting him for not recognizing the Anglican Church in North America, inviting Episcopal bishops to Lambeth, and so on.

Personally, Crusty was torn.  At times he was in the camp that was disillusioned with the Archbishop's leadership; however, in noticing that everyone seemed pissed off at him, COD had the sinking feeling that maybe he was on to something  After all, sometimes making everyone unhappy is a sign you're doing something right but unpopular.  As a historian, COD is holding off on assessing Archbishop Williams' legacy right now, feeling that we need to see, in the passage of time, whether his efforts to strike a middle ground only postponed something inevitable, Neville Chamberlain-style, or whether it was able to prevent anything drastic from happening while a new consensus and middle ground coalesced.

So:  what to make of the new Archbishop?  A couple of things to keep in mind.

For one, this may be hard for those of us in the USA who think the world revolves around us, but here it is: this appointment wasn't about us.  The Archbishop of Canterbury a diocesan bishop, metropolitan, Primate of All England, and first among equals in the communion.  3/4ths of his job description has to do with the Church of England.  The Crown Appointments Commission selected the person they thought would be the best primate for the Church of England.   We can see some of this reflected in Bishop Welby's comments at the press conference.  He spoke of "the church", referring to the Church of England and its network of parishes and schools.  It seems clear they wanted someone with practical administrative experience (his previous career in the oil business), and extensive pastoral experience (time spent as parish priest and cathedral dean) to run the Church of England, which is actually what the Archbishop spends most of his time doing, BTW.

For another, don't immediately fear the evangelical.  It has been tradition, but not law, to alternate between evangelicals and those of a high church bent.  Many American Episcopalians recoil at the word "evangelical," in part because we have not maintained a substantive evangelical party in the church, unlike many other provinces. The Episcopal Church's evangelical wing, large and influential in the 1800s, more or less died out in the 20th century before being revived in the late 20th century as kind of frankenevangelicalism, one part American Protestant evangelicalism, one part charismatic renewal, one part connection and influence from other Anglican provinces.  Crusty has already heard some friends roll their eyes and recoil at an "evangelical" as Archbishop of Canterbury.  Yet the reality is in this appointment, the choice has been made to select a centrist, pragmatic evangelical.  Bishop Welby has stated his opposition to same sex blessings, but also his support of women bishops.  Let's see how this develops; the consensus last time was the Archbishop Williams was going to liberalize the church's positions on LBGT persons, and that didn't happen.

And lastly: perhaps we should be wondering how much this even matters at all?  After all, despite all of the freight laid at his feet by conservatives and liberals, Archbishop Williams couldn't really "do" much.  To be sure, we could argue things could have been handled differently and different decisions been made (Jeffrey Johns; removal of Episcopalians from certain Anglican Communion commissions), but, in the end, he couldn't order Anglicans opposed to ordination of LBGT persons to accept it, and he couldn't kick the Episcopal Church out of the Communion even if he wanted to.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, COD. You last 'graph has put the matter into good perspective, and I've quoted you several times today when people have asked me about the appointment.

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