Anglican Communion must not drift apart, Archbishop Williams says in farewell letter

December 5, 2012

(Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, addresses the theology think tank Theos in London October 1, 2012. REUTERS/Paul Hackett )

The outgoing leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans has said their national churches must live with some religious diversity but not become like “distant relatives who sometimes send Christmas cards to each other”.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told the primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion that their loose association of 38 member churches “has endured much suffering and confusion and still lives with this in many ways.”

But he added in his farewell letter to them: “Our Communion has never been the sort of Church that looks for one central authority… We have to have several points of reference for the organizing of our common life.”

Williams spent most of his decade as Anglican spiritual leader struggling to keep bitter disputes between liberals in western countries and traditionalists, mostly from African and other developing countries, from tearing the Communion apart.

Faced with strong traditionalist opposition to gay clergy, women priests and liberal interpretations of the Bible, he tried to balance both sides and to strengthen central authority in Anglicanism so member churches did not diverge too much.

But his Anglican Covenant project failed when even his Church of England rejected the idea of a stronger center. Unlike the powerful Roman Catholic pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury is only the spiritual leader of Anglicans and has no direct authority over the Communion’s member churches.

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