when church could become ‘a life-giving vision’

Rowan_Williams - retired Archbishop of Canterbury

I liked the quote from Rowan Williams in his New Year message on the eve of his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury.

He said religion ‘isn’t a social problem or an old fashioned embarrassment: it’s a wellspring of energy, and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. ’

But when I looked up the quote I realised that he was talking specifically about social projects run by Churches. He was not talking about religion or the Church generally. I was pleased by this. When I trained for ministry I was shaped by what is now called Community Ministry – the local church engaging with local residents  about shared issues.

So Rowan Williams is making a positive claim about specific parts of the Churches work- that of service to others.  Recent events – the failure to vote for women bishops and the limited (and surely impractical) step to allow celibate priests in civil partnerships to be bishops- have shown that the Church of England is not seen by many as ‘a life giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated’.

To  be seen in this way it will need to accept unconditionally within its structures both women and those who are gay.

In the meantime I am glad when local Churches, especially together with partners with different religious and secular beliefs, can show how people should be valued and treated – the Food Co-ops now springing up for those looking for their next family meal, the visiting schemes for the ill or housebound, the car share journeys to distant hospitals, initiatives to give vision to young people, and all those quiet AA meetings that happen invisibly everywhere…

Inspite of the social/sexual/gender embarrasment of the Church there is a vision of human flourishing to be glimpsed – just.


Jubilee, boats, rain and ‘the shared life’.

The Queen’s Jubilee was for me an experience of waving at people on boats in the rain and then staying at home to watch TV of other people in the rain.


Among all this I was struck by Rowan Williams’s sermon for thanksgiving for the Queen’s 60 years of service since her coronation.  He talked about the ‘…recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.’

He is drawing attention to simple and rarely remarked upon idea that we find the meaning and value of our lives only in relation to other people.

 I like the idea that being human is about being turned out from ourselves towards others. It is a key part of having good encounters and conversations, especially with those who have different views of the world from our own. There is a link here to the growing importance among students of having good dialogue between people of different faiths (see also the posts about Alain de Botton).

Rowan Williams also suggests that the ‘shared life’ is transforming.

‘Moralists (archbishops included) can thunder away as much as they like; but they’ll make no difference unless and until people see that there is something transforming and exhilarating about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together – being glad of each other’s happiness and safety. This alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal – and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us.’

The whole sermon is at http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2514/archbishops-sermon-at-st-pauls-for-national-service-of-thanksgiving

More boats and rain…