The Church Militant ; C of E: The New Archbishop Will Face a Church Riven by Warring Tribes. Nicholas Pyke Reports

Article excerpt

Tony Blair must have known exactly what to expect when he picked Dr Rowan Williams, left, poet, scholar and Christian Socialist. The next Archbishop of Canterbury is disappointed with New Labour. He has condemned plans to invade Iraq and railed against big business for corrupting childhood.

But if the Prime Minister is in for a rough ride, so is Dr Williams, who will have to demonstrate similar bravery in the field of church politics. His appointment has been greeted with enthusiasm and, in most quarters, optimism. But the controversies that dogged Dr George Carey's tenure have not gone away. Regular church attendance continues to decline. Although doctrinally orthodox, Dr Williams's sympathy for homosexual clergy has already angered conservative elements in the growing evangelical wing of the church. And despite his mystical leanings, Dr Williams's support for women bishops has alarmed the Anglo-Catholics, who are threatening schism. We asked clergy from four different parts of a frequently divided church what they make of a leader who wants to help Christianity "recapture the imagination of our people and our culture".

The gay clergyman

`At last, the dawning of the light'

The Rev Chris Wardale, 56, is one of only two Anglican vicars in a publicly acknowledged same-sex relationship. He runs Holy Trinity, a large 19th-century parish church in Darlington. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, the evangelical George Carey, is opposed to gay priests and Chris Wardale had been led to expect that he would never get another post in the church.

"I think that, finally, reality might dawn upon the Church of England. Over the years a small minority of people have thought of themselves as being the power-brokers who can shut off bits of the church that present problems or criticism. I don't think Rowan will tolerate that. He will make people face their fears and hauntings. He is sensible. He has the wisdom that comes with being an archbishop already: he knows how the power structures work and how to use them. People see the large shaggy beard and maybe imagine he's naive, but there's a very tough cookie underneath. For me personally a light has dawned in the greyness that has descended for the past 12 years. The banging on the closet doors became positively deafening. Then silence. But now I think we'll hear the scratching of locks being undone. It will be a gentle process, and it won't happen all at once. But I look forward to much greater openness. I think there's a sense of excitement in the church with this appointment. Already the phone has started to ring again."

The evangelical `He has shown contempt'

The Rev William Taylor is Rector of St Helen's Bishopsgate in the City of London, a thriving parish attracting young professionals. The church is wealthy, influential and part of a growing evangelical movement. The church takes a conservative approach to faith, particularly on sexual issues, and represents a strain of evangelical belief that has been openly critical of Dr Williams's support for gay clergy.

"We would like to congratulate Dr Williams, who steps into a position of enormous responsibility and follows in the footsteps of a number of great Christian leaders. We shall be praying for him as he prepares for his new role. My concern is in his ability to unite those with whom he disagrees. Some of his views in the area of gender and sexuality are in conflict with the teaching of the Bible. He has labelled those who disagree with him as adopting an "abstract fundamentalist" use of scripture and of applying "narrow and crude" criteria. This suggests a degree of contempt for the views of millions of Christians. But we are told he is a humble man, and my hope is he will make a clear statement to the effect that his previous statements were ill-advised. We look forward to him applying his abilities and intellect to proclaiming faithfully the person and teaching of Jesus. …