Monday, November 5, 2012

Rockstar and Theologian of Canterbury

+Rowan Williams has visited what he cheekily called an extension of his Diocese of Canterbury.* In all respects it was excellent.

Saturday afternoon and evening

On Saturday afternoon I was privileged to be part of +Victoria's Christchurch party of 20+ people who, along with the Archbishop and his entourage, three members of the Diocese of Nelson and one from the Diocese of Dunedin were welcomed to Te Wai Pounamou. Such welcomes often involve sitting outside and this one will never be forgotten as it was unseasonably cold and wet. Despite wearing my best woollen English overcoat I was very cold by the end of the welcome which segued into a service which concluded with a blessing of the site of Bishop John Gray's proposed new cathedral for te Wai Pounamou.

Moving into a huge marquee for the hakari (feast) which followed was better re temperature and the evening warmed up in all sorts of ways as we were served the most amazing array of seafood I have ever seen at a meal, followed by a main course served from the hangi pits which had been cooking through the day. The greatest warmth in the evening was the diverse expressions of entertainment as we sang, recited poetry and told jokes which would grace any comedy show, all compered beautifully by +John.

Brian Thomas' account with pics is worth reading here. I have my own picture to contribute courtesy of my father's camera - ++Rowan is flanked by two staff members, Bishops Kito Pikaahu, Victoria Matthews, Brian Carrell, Henry Paltridge, and Mrs Phyllis Paltridge:

Later that evening ++Rowan visited The Concert, a musical event for volunteers of Canterbury.

Sunday morning

Yesterday morning he preached and presided at a service at our cathedral/Christ's College Chapel and then toured the inner city by bus and spoke with parishioners and with the media at the site of Holy Trinity, Avonside.

Fr Ron Smith writes splendidly of the cathedral service here, and a full Stuff report including video interview is here.

Courtesy Stuff we can show this terrific photo after the cathedral service at Christ's College - left (in the photo) of ++Rowan is Acting Dean Lynda Patterson, Fr Ron Smith's face is just behind the archepiscopal left shoulder and I feel sorry for Simon Leese the Headmaster of Christ's College who is obscured by +Victoria's crook! Liturgy's Bosco Peters is the priest on the far right of the photo (and his reflection on the visit is here).

Sunday afternoon 2 pm

So to the afternoon's event at St Christopher's Avonhead where ++Rowan preached at a 40 minute service and then spoke on holiness with Q and A following for an hour with 16-30 year olds at an event gate-crashed by some older people. I figured that if I didn't ask any questions I wouldn't be stealing the 16-30s opportunity to sit at the feet of the master ...

Bryden Black, commenting on an earlier post here, observes about the first afternoon event,

"Which is the more heartfelt my having just returned from hearing a stupendously adroit exegesis and exposition OF THE WORD OF GOD by the ABC in quite simply splendid form! He and we deserve a better outcome from ACC 15 than that presently on track."

Indeed. Expounding John 11:17-44, ++Rowan demonstrated why he is so important to global Anglican life. As the Theologian of Canterbury he took us into the text and through to what lies behind it, that moment amidst the stench of the decaying body when resurrected Lazarus' face is unwrapped (v. 44) and he sees again. What he sees is, of course, the face of Jesus and so we were taken via 2 Corinthians 4 to the glory of God. We were, so to speak, back in the previous Sunday's ordinary gospel reading from Mark 10:46-52, only those who see can follow.

The greatness of the archepiscopal ministry of ++Rowan lies in his being Theologian of Canterbury, one who can see further than the rest of us into the mystery of God and God's love for the world, which is the gospel. With such sight the church can be united and reunited in its life and mission founded on the gospel. Unity through truth; truth gives unity.

Apropos of the part of Bryden Black's comment cited above about the deficiency of the ACC: it is not seeing what it should see, the importance of unity through truth. Instead, if its celebration of the report on the Bible in the Communion is a guide, any time there is disagreement about truth, we celebrate our diversity instead of mourning our loss of unity. Such response is scandalous, a stumbling block to true Christian "progress" which is not marked by harmony with Western notions of progress but by growth in gospel response throughout the world and by growth in maturity among believers.

Celebrating diversity constantly is a shell game, an avoidance of the hard work finding the truth involves. The point of theology is to seek truth. Stopping when the going gets hard with a celebration of diversity of viewpoint is intellectual laziness. We will only progress as a Communion when we repent of our apathy and move forward zealous for the truth. I am, by the way, firing this critical gun at all sides.

I suggest a true critical evaluation by historians of the contribution of ++Rowan's leadership will involve the lead he gave as the Theologian of Canterbury, the clarity with which he expressed that lead, and the calibre of the reception of that theological leadership by the Church of England and the wider Communion. What contemporary critics are missing (I sense, as a result of his visit to Christchurch) is that when his exposition of Scripture invited us to walk together more deeply into the mystery of the Triune love we have held back and preferred to walk apart, according to our own lesser understanding, covering our division with the fig-leaf of celebrating diversity. Our loss. As Adam and Eve found, when the fig-leaf is used, God becomes distant!

Incidentally, on the greatness of ++Rowan as the Theologian of Canterbury, see now Theo Hobson in a commentary which repays careful reading.

Sunday afternoon 3 pm

Back to St Christopher's. The second part of the afternoon was all I believe +Victoria wished it to be - an opportunity for young adults of the Diocese to be inspired by ++Rowan. He spoke movingly and perceptively on holiness and then answered a series of very intelligent and well articulated questions with confidence and clarity. And some humour! He made a point about some resistance to Cardinal John Newman being made a saint on the grounds that (apparently) people who visited him came away feeling rather glum when the general belief is that to be in the presence of a saint is to feel a new joy in living.** His initial answer to a question about what he thought about atheism was "I'm against it!" A fuller answer, of course, followed. (See Lloyd Ashton's account of this session here).

As I observed the process of the weekend - a heavily scripted twenty-four hours designed to maximise the presence of ++Rowan as "the Archbishop of Canterbury", itself a brief respite from the very full timetable of the ACC, in turn an event preceded by visitations en route - I want to suggest that if the key to being the ABC is to be the Theologian of Canterbury, indeed of the Anglican Communion, then the reality is also being the Rockstar of Canterbury.

His importance as the Rockstar is to appear at events, as many as possible, and the inevitable consequence is minimization of access to the Rockstar. Apart from a few moments at the end of the last event when young adults gathered around ++Rowan and chatted with him, I saw no opportunity in the programme for a general conversation on theology with those who like conversational theology. I imagine that is the story of his archepiscopal life wherever he goes.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*For those unfamiliar with NZ geography, my city of Christchurch is in the province of Canterbury - the then Archbishop of Canterbury being patron of the society in the nineteenth century which organised the English settlement of this part of Aotearoa NZ.

**I am putting up quite a few of my colleagues for beatification because when I am with them I never feel glum!

POSTSCRIPT: A report of ++RW's presidential address to ACC-15 today is here. Has it grasped the Communion nettles?


Tim Chesterton said...

What an encouraging report, Peter - thank you! Amid thanks for the photos, too - good to see Bishop Victoria's face, I often think of her and wonder how she is doing.

Bryden Black said...

“Celebrating diversity constantly is a shell game ...
... As Adam and Eve found, when the fig-leaf is used, God becomes distant!”

Peter, I think you might have penned two of your more important paragraphs ever ...! Congratulations! A response:

First, to allow your cross-hairs to settle upon myself - and so to ponder more deeply still what is and wherein we may truly find wisdom (curious that only this last week I found myself back in Job for a couple of days, pausing for some time on ch.28; thereafter having to fast forward to 1 Cor 1-4).

Second, re pondering (wondering before?!) the mystery of the triune love and truth. Of course for many centuries now this central feature of Christian Faith has become problematic. “Mere monotheism” (Rahner) is the prevailing option, with deism probably the default stance overall. We simply have little appreciation for an operational theology of the Trinity. To be sure again, ever since 1964 and the first edition of Jüngel’s “paraphrase” of Barth’s theology, there have been signs of hope in some circles. Yet this Trinitarian revival has not found its way into the pews, let alone our everyday Christian praxis, where in the end it must reside.

Third, some years ago a Melbournian colleague wrote a wee booklet unpacking the Trinity via three kinds of spirituality, each focusing upon one of the Persons. This approach has a certain merit, both in the sense of positively accessing something at least about the mystery itself, and also by way of acknowledging how partial many a perspective on the Christian Faith actually is.

Fourth and last, a fulsome embrace of Trinitarian Faith and faith is a calling well worth the hard work you are demanding of the AC in this post. Curiously, ++ Rowan has himself already contributed quite a lot to such a task. However, if my own analysis of his intellectual pilgrimage is anywhere near the mark, while pondering the contributions of Vladimir Lossky is surely helpful, via naturally his readings also of Karl Barth, I am far from convinced his forays into the likes of Gillian Rose et al has been a positive move. Whether dealing with the prevailing French moment of postmodernism or the countering moment of German hypermodernity, either, as an index of the current European Age, worldly seduction demands of Christians as profound a sifting as the Fathers rendered unto Platonism in its various forms. And even then some say they did not go far enough! The question drills down now to how profoundly are we prepared to wrestle with the Angel of Peniel?!

Thanks again Peter for the probing prod; may many follow your lead.

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Peter, for your pretty fulsome coverage of the Archbishop's visit. Certainly at the Eucharist in the chapel of christ's College, the ABC's sermon (without notes) was much appreciated by the 700 or so present. His celebration of the Eucharist - both speaking and singing the liturgy - was impeccable.

Such a pity that virtueonline has carried the report of your less optimistic view of ACC15. However, I regard him as the Prophet of Doom for mainstream Anglicanism, so I'm not too surprised that he should want to project the darker image.

One bright spot on the ABC's visit - no appearance of 'The Wizard'

Thanks for you generous hat-tip to those of us at Christ's College!
Agape, Fr. Ron

Anonymous said...

What does it say to us about the importance of this visit to rank and file Anglicans that there was no overflow at either Christ College or St Christopher's? Is it a sign of the times, or lack of publicity/organisation of the visit, or something else? On one previous occasion of an ABC's visit we packed out the QEII stadium with the accompanying buzz and excitement, such as Catholics give their Pope.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Please use your name - at least your first name!

I think we may have undercooked aspects of the publicity (e.g. might we have asked parishes to close down services to ensure people felt free to attend?) and overcooked other aspects (e.g. did asking people to bring a chair in case they had to sit outside put some people off coming?).

It is difficult to get these things right.

MichaelA said...


Thanks, fascinating report about an historic visit.