(Photo: REUTERS/Dan Kitwood/POOL)
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams has sent his final Advent letter to the Anglican Communion as he gets ready to retire this month as leader of the Church of England after a decade of service.
He wrote that in the 10 years he has been in charge, "our Communion has endured much suffering and confusion," but added that the Church has been privileged to "to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in different ways within our common life."
"Despite many questions about how our decisions about doctrine and mutual responsibility are made in the Communion, and some challenges to the various 'Instruments of Communion,' the truth is that our Communion has never been the sort of Church that looks for one central authority," Williams wrote.
During his time in charge, Williams has had to preside over divisive debates in the Anglican church, including the questions of ordaining gay clergy as well as women bishops, a proposal that failed during the General Synod vote last month.
The archbishop shared his experience working and seeing Anglican parishes grow around the world, which he said showed how important networks had become.
"In the work done around evangelism, healthcare, the environment, the rights and dignities of women and children and of indigenous peoples and many more areas, what drew people together was this halfway formal model of a global community of prayer and concern maintained by deep friendship and common work," the departing Anglican head wrote. "This is where you are probably most likely to see the beauty of the face of Christ in the meetings of the Communion; this is where the joyful hope of Christian believers is most strongly kindled."
In conclusion, Williams acknowledged that he will be questioning himself about work that had been left undone and unresolved, but is thankful for having served the Anglican Communion in many places around the world.
One regret Williams previously admitted to was the Anglican Communion failing to do more to protect the rights of gays and lesbians, and his neglecting to push for more communication and understanding between parishes split on whether or not homosexuals should be ordained.
"Thinking back over things I don't think I've got right over the last 10 years, I think it might have helped a lot if I'd gone sooner to the United States when things began to get difficult about the ordination of gay bishops, and engaged more directly with the American House of Bishops," Williams said in September.
His final address reads: "In saying goodbye as Archbishop of Canterbury, I want also to say thank you to God for these moments and the friendships that surround them, and thank you also to all with whom I have had the privilege of ministering in this decade in every province of the Communion."
Williams also praised his successor, Bishop Justin Welby, who is said to stand with Williams on many on the important issues affecting the Anglican Communion, including the ordination of women as bishops.
After the vote did not get the crucial two-thirds majority needed to pass, Welby said that despite the setback, he is confident women will be installed as bishops during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury.
"It's clear those women are going to be bishops in the Church of England," Welby said, who will officially take over in March 2013. "It was a pretty grim day for the whole church. There is a lot to be done but I am absolutely confident that at some point I will consecrate a woman bishop."
Williams' full letter can be found on the Archbishop of Canterbury's website.