Out of all the Advent Challenge Topics from Jon this is the one that made me really stop and think. It’s completely reasonable to expect that I have an opinion on the new Archbishop of Canterbury (the ABC of the title) and that I’d probably share it at some point. The thing that surprised me was that it didn’t even cross my mind to blog it and get responses on it.
(Jon has often said that he’d like to hear me present a short discussion podcast around issues of faith/spirituality and culture. We’ve privately christened it The Talk-Along-A-God Podcast. Maybe, one day it’ll get made. I’d want Jon to be one of my first guests. I think we’d give good podcast chat.)
I realise that starting to refer to the five things I want from the ABC starting with Thing One makes it sound like a character from the Cat In The Hat by Dr Seuss. And my Thing One from the ABC is a little like Thing One from Dr Seuss. My Thing One I’d like is schism.
I liked Rowan Williams as ABC, he was intelligent, bookish, well meaning. He seemed like a genial Uncle you enjoyed visiting that would quote obscure poetry or philosophers at you and then say “… That’s a bit like Jesus…” and yank your thinking back to familiar but now unfamiliar territory. Rowan had the capacity of making familiar things feel strange (like Brecht did in the theatre) and the quality of his engagement with atheists like Phillip Pullman was wonderful. (I could easily listen to the two of them chat about storytelling, the nature of religion, faith and spirituality. Instead of Pullman and Williams being on opposing sides in a battle I think they’re closer together than either “side” would prefer to admit.)
All the way through the time he served as leader of the Anglican communion I got the sense he was holding everything together with sellotape, string and lots of goodwill (from him to everyone else, he frequently found himself in the firing line). In the similar way that American politics has gently crept to the right over the last thirty years (Obama has more moderate Republican positions than he does Democrat positions) the church in England has become more and more conservative (small C) over the last twenty years; the ABC has been forced to take more and more “traditional” positions on female bishops, marriage equality, the nature of family, immigration etc. There’s been more than a few times I’ve whispered to myself watching Rowan speak “just let it go…”: meaning let the Church of England split. To expect an organisation that’s 478 years old to agree on everything all the time is naive. Every so often there’s a group of Church of England vicars or churches that threaten to leave or “move to Rome” (they mean ‘defect’ to the Catholic rather than pick out a nice apartment overlooking the Trevi fountain) and the little voice inside me says “Go on then”. If they’re so angry about what’s happening and they don’t feel the COE adequately chimes with their faith journey, there’s the door. Digging in a fox hole and shouting loudly won’t win over people that disagree with you.
So that’s my First Thing, my Thing One for the ABC. If you can’t hold the Anglican Communion together, don’t try. Let it fracture, let it go. Then gather people back together once the shaking and fracturing is over. (I don’t know how practical my suggestion is. I’m not the ABC, thank goodness)