Archbishop Rowan Williams receives a warm welcome at Kibera, Nairobi, during a recent visit to Anglican churches in Africa. Photo: archbishopofcanterbury.org
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, brought “the great gift of his intellect” as well as his “deep passion for the wellbeing of the church,” says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Archbishop Williams, 61, announced on March 16 that he had accepted a position as master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University and would be stepping down as the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Hiltz said Archbishop Williams “worked very, very hard” to hold the Anglican Communion together and that during his 10-year term, “there’s been a kind of wonderful refocusing on the understanding of the church as a servant of God’s mission in the world.”
In addition, said the primate, the Communion’s Five Marks of Mission “have really taken hold during his time,” as evidenced by the many new groups that have emerged, including the Anglican Health Network and the Anglican Alliance for development, relief and advocacy. The primate also praised the Archbishop of Canterbury’s skill as “a really good ambassador for Christian unity” and for strengthening relationships with other faith traditions.
Archbishop Williams “stood alongside those that are in greatest need of solidarity,” said Archbishop Hiltz, including smaller churches that “can often feel overlooked (and) are facing enormous pressures. Rowan has really gone out of his way to express his communion with them.” Among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury advocated for the churches and people of Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Beyond his official duties, the Archbishop of Canterbury brought his own life of prayer as “a great gift” to the Communion, said Archbishop Hiltz. “I will always have the image of seeing him early in the morning, in his chapel at prayer. That’s how he begins every day in his home at Lambeth (Palace).”
In 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a noted theologian, gave three addresses to the Canadian House of Bishops, which gathered in the spring of 2007 at Niagara Falls to consider the nominees for the Canadian primacy. Since he became primate in 2007, Archbishop Hiltz has met with the Archbishop of Canterbury in his office at Lambeth Palace every year. “He’s been very gracious and accommodating. He receives so many people,” he said.
Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to Archbishop Hiltz, also paid tribute to the Archbishop of Canterbury saying, “He never opted for the cheap way out,” and eventually found a way for Anglicans to talk, to pray and to meet amidst deep divisions. While Anglicans have emerged “no less conservative” or “no less liberal” about their views on human sexuality, “there’s a willingness to engage in conversation,” said Archdeacon Feheley, who worked closely with the Archbishop of Canterbury as communications manager at the 2009 ACC meeting in Jamaica.
He said he would remember Archbishop Williams for his humility, and his skill as “brilliant theologian” and teacher. “He’s not a fist pounder. He’s very gracious and easy to work with,” said Archdeacon Feheley.