Williams takes his seat

Published April 1, 2003

Archbishop Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and senior primate of the Anglican Communion (right), leads the prayers for the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Canterbury, England

Archbishop Rowan Williams was enthroned as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, in the majestic, medieval Canterbury Cathedral, with ancient pageantry to reflect the history of the occasion, and African drums to honour the majority presence of African Anglicans in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The guest list for the two-hour service on Feb. 27 had an international flavour, with an enhanced Muslim contingent and strong security, both reflecting the realities of the post-Sept. 11 Anglican world.

Throughout the service were Welsh touches at the behest of the former primate of Wales. He shone in a dark gold silk cope, stole and mitre with Celtic crosses in the weave and braiding especially designed for him for the ceremony by a Welsh artisan.

Canada’s primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, said upon his return from Canterbury that he was located right where the young African dancers were performing.

“It had great joy about it,” the primate said.

Archbishop Peers said the cathedral was filled with a “quite palpable sense of expectation.” He said this enthronement differed from the previous one (of Archbishop George Carey) in that “there was a sense of interest about it in the society as a whole because of the process of his appointment and some of the things that happened afterward. It has created a consciousness of the archbishop of Canterbury as a person.”

After being enthroned with elaborate pomp and ritual, the new Archbishop of Canterbury delivered his sermon in a strong voice. Once characterized as a “hairy lefty” for both his beard and his pacifist views, he seemed to criticize the current march to war against Iraq when he talked about running away from God.

At that point, cameras flashed to a rueful-looking British prime minister Tony Blair, who sat prominently in the audience under heavy security.

“Once we recognize God’s great secret,” the archbishop said, “that we are all meant to be God’s sons and daughter, we can’t avoid the call to see another differently.

“No one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We cannot assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us.”

This, he added, “unsettles our loyalties, conservative or liberal, right wing or left, national or international. We have to learn to be human alongside all sorts of others, the ones whose company we don’t greatly like, the ones we didn’t choose, because Jesus is drawing us together into his place, into his company.”

In an apparent nod to the conflict in the church between conservative evangelicals, who protested his election, and liberals, who cheered it, the archbishop said he needed to be “surprised and challenged by the Jesus each of you will have experienced. As long as we can still identify the same Jesus in each other’s life, we have something to share and to learn. [pullquote]

“Does there come a point where we can’t recognize the same Jesus, the same secrets? The Anglican church is often accused of having no way of answering this. But I don’t believe it; we read the same Bible and practise the same sacraments and say the same creeds.”

Archbishop Peers said that the British media expressed disappointment that the new Archbishop of Canterbury was not more forthright on politics in his sermon. However, Archbishop Peers said the sermon was thoughtful and accessible. “He was trying to speak to the church about the way we live in the society of today and address the society of today. It was encouragement to take heart, and it was designed to address the church about the time ahead,” said Archbishop Peers.

Sprinkled throughout the service were touches from the archbishop’s native Wales, both in his choice of vestments and jewels, and in the music.

As he walked into the cathedral after having been handed the shepherd’s crook from the cathedral’s dean, Robert Willis, the new Archbishop of Canterbury kept his right hand on the clasp of his gold silk cope. He had commissioned Welsh artist Rhiannon Evans to make the gold and silver morse, or clasp, for his cope.

The clasp featured red and white dragons of the Merlin Prophecy, an ancient tale of the ancient race of Britons defeating the Anglo-Saxon hordes. The clasp reportedly symbolized that a Welsh man who is an inheritor of the ancient British tradition was moving to the See of Canterbury. This was the first time in recorded history that a non-Englishman was elected Archbishop of Canterbury.

Other Welsh flavourings included an anthem sung by the choir of St. Woolos cathedral in Monmouth, the archbishop’s former diocese, and Welsh hymns from the archbishop’s own translations.

The service also included African drummers.

During the exchange of the peace, Archbishop Williams and his wife Jane plunged into the throng seated behind the high altar to warm hugs and handshakes. More than 600 people from the church in Wales went to Canterbury to see their archbishop assume the leadership of the worldwide church.

Leaders of black churches and Muslim scholars from Egypt’s Al-Ashar University were a significant contingent, the latter seen as a sign of the continuation of a dialogue started by Archbishop George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, in the search for peace in the Holy Land.

Almost all the primates of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion were present.

The service also had a strong ecumenical bent. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, and leaders of the Orthodox and “free church” (Protestant) communities all did readings or spoke.

Also in the congregation in the majestic medieval cathedral in south-east England was the church’s full company of bishops, and the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles.

Anglican Communion News Service, the Church of England Newspaper, and the Times Online


Keep on reading

Skip to content