Guest Post – Remembering Rowan

The following is a guest post by Revd Richard England, a Curate in Derby Diocese about to move to his first incumbency.

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Remembering Rowan: A Voice from the Trenches

Lots of people will be writing obituaries of Archbishop Rowan’s (hereafter ++Rowan) decade-long tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury (hereafter ABC). Of those I’ve read at this point, most have seemed to focus on the political life of the CofE over the last ten years, and ++Rowan’s role within that. So, I wanted to offer a few thoughts as someone – a curate in a northern town about to go into my ‘title post’ (first post after training) – who is not just a detached, ‘political observer’, but has to live and lead within the CofE as it is and as it might become in the very near future.

First, a few thoughts on the political stuff (about which I know less): this was always going to be an almost-impossible time in which to lead the worldwide Anglican Communion. The challenges and divisions currently facing the Anglican Church would have surfaced no matter who was in charge. ++Rowan’s decision not to push his own views on the matters that so conflict us – whether same-sex clergy or women bishops – seems to have been a matter of conscience and one that I respect. But, no matter who was in charge nor the style of leadership they had adopted, these last 10 years would have been awful.

The awkward, political issues still remain and will not go away. Resolving issues of same-sex relationships, in particular, is going to prove difficult for churches of every stripe, either now or in the future. As one character on The West Wing puts it, reflecting on wider acceptance of same-sex relationships in the US, ‘It’s a matter of demographics.’ Younger people in Western cultures seem more liberal than their parents. So, this is not going to get easier, whoever’s in charge. If the next ABC sees the Anglican Church go with the culture into a more liberal position, it risks losing the lifeblood of the evangelical movement that provides so much of our growth, so many of our ordinands and so much of our money. If we go in the opposite direction, into a conservative position that appears judgemental and condemning, we risk the wrath of our culture and media and continuing to appear out of touch and removed from the world around us in a way that harms our witness. ++Rowan seemed to try to walk a line between these two pitfalls, as well as trying to keep everyone at the table. For that, he certainly has my respect.

However, politics aside, the last 10 years may prove to be a key turning-point in the life of the CofE.

Slowly but surely, the realities on the ground are changing. The choking grip of the parish system is being loosened. We are starting to ordain pioneers, not just lose them to other denominations or the mission field. Church planting is back on the agenda. Bishops are starting to talk about mission, not just managing decline. Churches are growing, and not just in London.

I’m going to be bold but I think we may look back on ++Rowan’s time as the time when we bottomed out and started the slow climb back into growth and health. Now, the average, ‘middle-of-the-road’ Anglican Church is probably still in a disastrous state of health. But success is catching, just like failure is. And there are more and more success stories. And Bishops, all across the country, are starting to listen and offer more space (and buildings) to help growing churches grow further.

Fresh Expressions, Pioneer Ministers, Bishops Mission Orders have all sprung to life in the last ten years, and the CofE is (whisper it) starting to become quite an exciting place to be involved in.

I’m not important enough to know how much credit for all this should go to ++Rowan himself. But, ten years ago,  I remember my great friends Bob & Mary Hopkins, of Anglican Church Planting Initiatives, being excited about ++Rowan’s appointment because, as Bishop of Monmouth, he had shown himself to be committed to the one thing that matters: mission.

The leader of an organisation inevitably has some part to play in developing the organisational culture. During ++Rowan’s tenure, the CofE has slowly, slowly started to become more responsive to cultural change, more flexible in who it trains and how it trains them, less bound to the suffocating parish system and more open to mission and church-planting.

That, regardless of anything else, is worth celebrating.

Thanks ++Rowan.

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