Rowan Williams: Fighting the good fight

A week or so ago, the Guardian published a delightful interview between David Hare and Rowan Williams in which they discuss politics, education, economics, localism, prisons, the church, faith, self-absorption, and Welsh poets.

The entire interview is worth reading, but here are a few snippets to whet appetites: When asked by Hare whether Williams is paying too high a price for keeping together people who believe different things about gender, priesthood and sexuality, Williams responds: ‘I’ve no sympathy for that view. I don’t want to see the church so balkanised that we talk only to people we like and agree with. Thirty years ago, little knowing what fate had in store, I wrote an article about the role of a bishop, saying a bishop is a person who has to make each side of a debate audible to the other. The words “irony” and “prescience” come to mind. And of course you attract the reproach that you lack the courage of leadership and so on. But to me it’s a question of what only the archbishop of Canterbury can do’.

And on Welsh poet(-priests):

‘I always get annoyed when people call RS Thomas a poet-priest. He’s a poet, dammit. And a very good one. The implication is that somehow a poet-priest can get away with things a real poet can’t, or a real priest can’t. I’m very huffy about that. But I do accept there’s something in the pastoral office that does express itself appropriately in poetry. And the curious kind of invitation to the most vulnerable places in people that is part of priesthood does come up somewhere in poetic terms. Herbert’s very important to me. Herbert’s the man. Partly because of the absolute candour when he says, I’m going to let rip, I’m feeling I can’t stand God, I’ve had more than enough of Him. OK, let it run, get it out there. And then, just as the vehicle is careering towards the cliff edge, there’s a squeal of brakes. “Methought I heard one calling Child!/And I replied My Lord.” I love that ending, because it means, “Sorry, yes, OK, I’m not feeling any happier, but there’s nowhere else to go.” Herbert is not sweet.’


  1. Sadly, as the CoE dies before our eyes, the Archbishop fiddles yet more! The CoE simply must stand again for the Word of God, and a biblicist spirituality! My thoughts at least, but then I am an old Anglican Calvinist! And btw, I am a year older than Rowan (1949 for me). :)


  2. Thanks for this post Jason. Herbert, Thomas, Williams – a threefold diversity that only Anglicanism could accommodate. One a poet parson, one a poet priest, and one a poet Archbishop! Those descriptors will annoy Rowan even more!

    Of the Archbishop, I can only say that there are times when the church has to recognise no leader is a messiah, and no Archbishop a new CEO with a mandate to turn a business round. A man of prayer, and admirer of holiness, a scholar priest, a resister of power models of leadership – these Rowan Williams exemplifies – he has his failings of course, but the plight of the Church of England is hardly his fault, and its future is hardly his sole responsibility – but its future will depend on some of his best qualities, prayer, holiness, leadership as service and the sanctified thoughtfulness of those who look on our world with compassion and hopefulness rooted in the gospel of God’s love in Christ. Or so it seems to this baptist who observes from a distance at the struggles of other Christian brothers and sisters, and feels for them as a friend in God.


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