- (Photo: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who announced last week that he will be stepping down from his position at the end of December, is facing up to both public support and criticism of many of the decisions he made as head of the worldwide Anglican Communion during his 10-year reign.
For years, Williams has tried to keep the global communion together and prevent the estimated 80 million-member body from splitting.
While the Episcopal Church – the U.S. body of Anglicanism – has seen thousands of members leave over the ordination of openly homosexual bishops and departure from traditional Anglicanism, those breakaway parishioners and parishes have remained aligned with the Anglican Communion. A number of disaffected bishops in the Church of England have, meanwhile, left and joined the Catholic Church.
The Nigerian Anglican church recently issued a statement by the Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, of the Church of Nigeria, which heavily criticized Williams' decisions, and even accused him of dividing a once happy family.
Okoh said in a statement, "He is leaving behind a Communion in tatters: highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world.
"For us, the announcement does not present any opportunity for excitement. It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction. To this end, we commit our Church, the Church of Nigeria, (Anglican Communion) to serious fasting and prayers that God will do 'a new thing,' in the Communion," the statement said, adding that the Nigerian church will continue praying for Williams and his family.
"From the moment he took office, Dr. Rowan Williams' tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury was marked by uncertainty, controversy and unacceptable compromises to global orthodox Anglicans," writes David W. Virtue, a journalist, theologian, and commentator who started the Anglican news service, Virtue Online.
"When his book The Body's Grace revealed his stand on homosexuality, evangelical Anglicans in the Global South and West were unhappy. They immediately distanced themselves from his remarks despite his promise that his private views would not interfere or override the Anglican Communion's public position on such unbiblical, proscribed behavior," the theologian adds.
Still, many religious leaders and British politicians have been highly supportive of Williams' efforts in dealing with the many trials and tests the Anglican church has found itself tackling in recent times.
"In his company I have drunk deeply from the wells of God's mercy and love and it has all been joyful. He is a real brother to me in Christ," said The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, according to the Telegraph.
Dr Sentamu added, "The last decade has been a challenging time for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
"Thankfully, Archbishop Rowan is a remarkable and gifted leader who has strengthened the bonds of affection. Despite his courageous, tireless and holy endeavor, he has been much maligned by people who should have known better. For my part he has been God's apostle for our time."
"He is a deeply Christian man, both humble and holy, always approachable and never standing on ceremony. As such he has endeared himself to many people," said the Archbishop of Wales, Dr. Barry Morgan.
"The personal bond we have built and sustained over many years has been a source of strength and a symbol of how people of different faiths can come together as strangers and part as friends," added Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, the leader of all Jewish people in Britain.
In an interview with the Press Association, Williams himself commented on the crises he has had to lead through and whether he feels relieved to be going.
"Crisis management is never a favorite activity, I have to admit, but it's not as if that has overshadowed everything," he stated," It's certainly been a major nuisance, but in every job that you're in, there are controversies and conflicts and this one isn't going to go away in a hurry. So I can't say that there's a great sense of 'free at last.'"
"I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros," he added about whoever is chosen to replace him, the favorite for which is currently the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu.