Friday, 16 March 2012

Thanks Rowan

downloadI’ve had the privilege of seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury in a variety of settings. After Lambeth ‘98 Rowan, still then Bishop of Monmouth, was invited to speak to the Chelmsford Diocese Clergy Synod and gave a magisterial summary of that contentious conference, teasing out the nuances and complexities in contrast to the headline grabbing bluster of others. It was no surprise when he was made Archbishop of Wales soon after and then Archbishop of Canterbury a couple of years after that. Rowan, as ABC, came to lead a session at Spring Harvest on God and Creation that ended with a bomb scare and evacuation from the building which prevented a Q & A session. In case anyone thought Rowan was running scared he came back and was interviewed at length during the Big Top evening celebration. A friend published a book, quite a short book and just one in a series, and he received a hand written letter from Rowan with some comments on the illustrations in the book!

I also greatly enjoyed working with Jane Williams as a colleague on the faculty at St Mellitus College. Jane hosted us all for a staff residential at their house next to Canterbury Cathedral and I was reminded that this was a family home as well as an official residence. At Spring Harvest Rowan was asked what we could pray for and he asked for prayers in particular for his children. Whenever I read some of the vile rubbish that has been all too frequently spouted about Rowan, it is his family I think of because they have born the cost of Rowan’s ministry alongside him. I try to imagine how I would have felt as a teenager reading or listening to some of the abuse hurled at Rowan and what I would think of such people and the faith which they espouse.

Today Rowan announced that he would be stepping down as Archbishop at the end of the year and sadly some have taken the opportunity to hurl further abuse at him. I’m not going to link to these articles because that would simply give them more of the attention they so desperately crave. I simply contrast Rowan’s graciousness, prayerfulness and Godliness with their vituperation.

Reading Rowan’s theology can sometimes be a challenge but always rewards close attention. In debate or discussion with opponents such as Richard Dawkins, or in conversation with the likes of John Humphrey’s, one senses the pastor heart longing to see these people come to know the God who loves them. Rowan’s poetry opens up another side to his faith in God and love of life.

There is one incident amidst all the international travels, conversations with world and faith leaders, debates over matters such as the Anglican Covenant and the Ordination of Women to the Episcopacy, that I want to remember about Rowan’s time as ABC.

A father sent Rowan, along with other Christians, a letter his six year old daughter Lulu had written to God. You can read the full account here but the letter simply said:
To God how did you get invented? From Lulu xo
Rowan sent a personal reply which reads as follows:
Dear Lulu,
Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It's a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –
'Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn't expected.
Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I'm really like.
But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!'
And then he'd send you lots of love and sign off.
I know he doesn't usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.
+Archbishop Rowan

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