Anglican Head Holds Final Service in Front of Hundreds; Rowan Williams Retires

More than 700 participants attended the final service of Rowan Williams as the Archibishop of Canterbury on Sunday, Dec. 30. The Anglican leader will officially steps down from his post as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury as 2013 begins. 

Williams, 62, retired as leader of the Church of England and the wider 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Communion after 10 years of service.

"It was a way for the local congregation and the people of Canterbury to come together and say thank you to archbishop Rowan for all he has done for the last 10 years," a Canterbury Cathedral spokesperson said of Sunday's service, during which Williams was presented with five porcelain bowls by the Very Rev. Robert Willis as a gift for his service.

In his last Christmas Day sermon on Dec. 25, Williams told congregants that he believes Christianity is still strong, regardless of a recent census report which indicated the Christian religion declined by 13 percent over the last decade across England and Wales.

Additionally, Williams said in his last Christmas Day sermon as the Church of England leader, that he believes the recent vote by the General Synod, which fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to allow women to become bishops, was "deeply painful." 

"In the deeply painful aftermath of the synod vote last month what was startling was how many people who certainly wouldn't have said yes to the census question turned out to have a sort of investment in the church, a desire to see the church looking credible," Williams said of the recent census.

Williams will now become chair of the board of trustees of Christian Aid, a relief and development agency in the U.K., as well as a Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge University.

Of his appointment to the Christian Aid board of trustees, Williams said: "I am very honored indeed to be invited to chair the Board of Christian Aid. I had hoped very much to be able to continue some regular involvement in support and advocacy in the area of international justice and development, and this will allow such an involvement to flourish."

Williams will be succeeded as Archbishop of Canterbury by the Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, who will be consecrated in March 2013.

Over his tenure, Williams has been forced to lead the Anglican Communion during a period in which a number of divisive issues such as creationism, same-sex marriage, the Iraq war, and the inauguration of female bishops have come to the forefront. He has admitted that he has had a difficult time reconciling the two sides of each debate, but has said that being "unpopular" and "taking the rap" are simply part of the job.

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