Archbishop Rowan Williams (pictured here with Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland and Archbishop Michael Peers of Canada in 2001) will offer prayers at an evangelical conference in England in September.
The Archbishop of Canterbury will have the opportunity to win over some of the hard-line British evangelicals who vigorously opposed his nomination after he was invited to speak with them.
However, some say the invitation is not enough, calling it tokenism and a “shabby compromise.”
Archbishop Rowan Williams will offer prayers, but not an address, at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in September. He will also speak at the Anglican Evangelical Assembly in 2004.
“We deliberately issued the two invitations together because we wanted to spend more time with our archbishop,” said Paul Gardner, the archdeacon of Exeter and chairperson of the organizing committee for the September gathering. “But the agenda and speakers ? had already been decided before the archbishop was appointed.”
Archdeacon Gardner said that the invitation to Archbishop Williams was “in no way tokenism.” He would be given space to make some “opening comments” at the first session of the Congress, during the introductions, and before the main speaker, the bishop of Liverpool, James Jones.
Some evangelicals have indicated that they will not attend the Congress if Archbishop Williams is not given a platform there, while others have said the opposite.
When asked whether the invitation to Archbishop Williams was a compromise, Archdeacon Gardner said: “You can read it like that if you wish. These are difficult days in evangelicalism. We are praying and working towards everyone feeling they can join us at this Congress. We always knew this was going to be very difficult.”
Should space have been cleared on the agenda? Archdeacon Gardner said: “That may be true. It isn’t intentional not to have him.”
The bishop of Willesden, Peter Broadbent, said, “I’m surprised. Other archbishops of Canterbury have addressed NEAC. It was very valuable when (former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert) Runcie spoke there. If we’re playing diplomatic games here, so that we conciliate people who don’t like Dr. Williams, it’s a very stupid game. He’s our archbishop, and we should own him as such.”
Bishop Broadbent urged the organizers to reconsider their invitation. “This is a shabby compromise,” he said.