Patrick and Rowan: a tale of two bishops

I first met Rowan Williams when, as a youthful Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, he came to tea at the monastery and three of us spent the afternoon discussing the psalter with him. It was, if truth be told, a slightly sticky occasion and only really lost all trace of self-consciousness when we moved from small talk to theology and poetry. I suspect that for many of us who are not Anglicans (and possibly for many who are) it is that ease with monasticism, theology and poetry that we first think of when we think of the archbishop. All that he has done, or tried to do, for the Anglican Communion during his tenure of Canterbury, the difficulties he has faced, the obloquy he has endured, remind me of Paul VI, with whom I think he would have had an affinity. He has done an impossible job to the best of his ability, and those of us who are less able can only be grateful. As I said on Twitter yesterday, Canterbury’s loss is Cambridge’s gain; and I am already looking forward to the books he will be writing.

St Patrick was bishop in very different times, but, mutatis mutandis, the challenges he faced bear comparison with those faced by Archbishop Rowan. To proclaim the gospel loud and clear, to help others understand subtle points of theology, to question the values of society, to retain in the midst of busyness a monastic calm and focus (though not a monk himself), these sound very contemporary, rightly so. A bishop can never be ‘popular’ in the way that a singer or movie star can be popular: he must stand up for what he believes to be right, no matter what the cost to himself. In the case of Patrick, his steadfastness led to Ireland’s becoming a missionary centre of the Church for hundreds of years, no mean achievement for an ‘outsider’.

Britain owes much to Ireland; in the person of Patrick, Ireland owes much to Britain — a reminder that, from a Christian perspective, so many of our quarrels and disagreements are unnecessary. They generate heat, as family squabbles always do, but they do not always serve to advance the message of the gospel. Today, as we pray for all who look upon St Patrick as their patron, let us also pray for Archbishop Rowan and the world-wide Anglican Communion.

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6 thoughts on “Patrick and Rowan: a tale of two bishops”

  1. Thank you for this gracious and heartwarming post.

    To hold things together for a decade, in the Established Church, in a country that *demands* democracy and doesn’t always respect and value it, is a sterling feat in itself.

    We wish him well and pray for a successor through whom the Holy Spirit can best perform.

  2. Hear! Hear! How refreshing to read a blog post about religion that doesn’t leave me saddened by the bitterness of factional debate. (For example, the Telegraph’s religous affairs blog sometimes strikes me as a better advert for secularism than anything Richard Dawkins has ever written – at least as regards its coverage of the Roman Catholic Church.) I also endorse the spirit of the comments posted thus far. Thanks to Rosy Cole whose RT on Twitter brought this to my attention.

    I am not an Anglican myself, though I do admire the broad-minded and inclusive tradition within the C of E and have particular respect for Archbishop Williams. I hope that his successor will follow him in being more concerned with the power of prayer than with praying for power.

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