The chair of St Augustine of Canterbury is soon to be occupied by the Rt Rev Justin Welby following the confirmation of his election in St Paul's Cathedral on Monday, 4th February. I say occupied because the retired 104th Archbishop demonstrated in his valedictory 'Goodbye to Canterbury' TV programme, that the chair is too big to be filled by one man, or woman as he implied in a typical gender neutral comment, perhaps alluding to an earlier comment that the job was too big for one man.
There is a touch of irony in the opening paragraphs of a letter to another St Augustine published by the Ship of Fools when Rowan 'wrote' as the then newly elected Archbishop of Wales: What everyone remembers, of course, is the things you got wrong – or the things we're quite sure you got wrong. [...] And we blame you for messing up Christian attitudes to sex, because for you it was an area of humiliation and tragedy – forgetting, again, that you truly thought sex between husband and wife had something of heaven in it. We look for a scapegoat to explain why Western Christianity and Western civilization are so much of a mess. You wrote such a lot and so powerfully that I'm afraid you're a very good candidate for the position. But I think you would have turned around and challenged us: why the passion for a scapegoat? What are you refusing to look at in yourself?
It is too easy to look for a scapegoat. The sorry spectacle of Dr Philip Giddings being hounded for fulfilling his Christian duty as he saw it was the culmination of the fury of the movement for the ordination of women when they should have been asking themselves how they landed themselves in that mess when their goal was so easily within reach. The verdict of the majority who voted at the special meeting of the House of Laity was that the Christian virtues of love and charity exemplified by Dr Giddings had been replaced by greed with one excuse after another being advanced to reject any compromise other than that deemed acceptable to WATCH and their allies. I fully accept that women would not want to be placed in what they regard as an inferior position but that is something of a red herring when in reality the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had explained why it would not be so. Indeed how could it be for anyone sent as a servant?
The new Archbishop has a difficult job on his hands. The stumbling block of 'second class' women bishops cannot be overcome by going over the same ground which has been deemed totally unacceptable to the women's movement. Much to the chagrin of some in the women's lobby the recognition by the C of E of Free Church of England orders presents the opportunity to be more outward looking. As the Right Revd Christopher Hill, Chair of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, said: 'I hope there will be good relations between us and especially in those places where there is a Free Church of England congregation.' Charity begins at home!
No doubt when St Augustine of Canterbury was installed as Archbishop he could not have imagined the prospect of a woman sitting on his chair although we can be fairly confident of what St Augustine of Hippo would have thought about it. However, we can be certain that if three of the greatest theologians of our day, Pope Benedict, Metropolitan Hilarion and Archbishop Rowan had to decide on the ordination of women they would have voted two to one against Archbishop Rowan as would the majority of Anglicans. But now is the time for reconciliation. We have a new Archbishop who has that gift giving us the opportunity for a re-appraisal in the knowledge that we are all members of the One body.