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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Statement at first press conference

Tuesday 23rd July 2002

Dr Rowan Williams held a press conference on the morning his appointment was announced. This is his opening statement.

Recent months and recent weeks have been a strange time; it is a curious experience to have your future discussed, your personality, childhood influences and facial hair solemnly examined in the media, and opinions you didn't know you held expounded on your behalf. But in spite of the haze of speculation, it is still something of a shock to find myself here, coming to terms with an enormous trust placed in my hands and with the inevitable sense of inadequacy that goes with that.

But the primary job for me remains what it has long been: I have to go on being a priest and bishop, that is, to celebrate God and what God has done in Jesus, and to offer in God's name whatever I can discern of God's perspective on the world around – something which involves both challenge and comfort. I have loved being a diocesan bishop, and I look forward enormously to working with the clergy and people of the diocese of Canterbury. Even with the responsibilities of an Archbishop of Canterbury, it is important, I believe, to be grounded in the hopes and concerns of ordinary local Christian communities.

But I now have to learn a good many new things as well – how to speak of God in this very public position, in the middle of a culture which, while it may show a good deal of nostalgia, fascination and even hunger for the spiritual, is generally sceptical of Christianity and the Church; and also how to speak for and with a worldwide Christian family, an Anglican Communion that currently faces its share of challenges. I have happy recollections of working with other members of the Primates' Meeting, and I shall be writing to all the Primates in the next twenty-four hours to greet them and ask for their prayers.

I don't come to this task with a fixed programme or agenda. I am a theologian by training and have been a teacher of theology for a lot of my ministry; teachers of theology tend to have views on all sorts of things, and they have to engage with colleagues and students who hold very varied opinions. But no pastor or bishop holds a position in which their first task is to fight for the victory of their personal judgements as if those were final or infallible. My first task is that of any ordained teacher – to point to the source without which none of our activity would make sense, the gift of God as it is set before us in the Bible and Christian belief; and within the boundaries set by that, to try and help members of the Anglican family make sense to each other and work together for the honest and faithful sharing of our belief.

I hope, though, that some of my experience as a theologian may be helpful; and I have also greatly valued conversations over the years with those rather on the edges of the Church, people in the worlds of the arts, medicine, psychology, who are eager to explore what Christian faith means. There can be many gifts and many surprises in such meetings, and I hope they will continue.

The present Archbishop of Canterbury has provided a fine model of such listening and interpreting – though he has also shown how deeply demanding this vocation can be if it is followed consistently. I am genuinely grateful for what he has done in shaping the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a ministry of reconciliation and mission, and I hope to follow him in this as best I can.

It is also, I think, a calling to nourish a sense of proper confidence in the Church and more widely. This could be an unhelpful confidence that simply suggests the Church has all the answers and that refuses to pay real attention to other faiths and other convictions.

But there is also a confidence that arises from being utterly convinced that the Christian creed and the Christian vision have in them a life and a richness that can embrace and transfigure all the complexities of human life. This confidence can rightly sit alongside a patient willingness to learn from others in the ordinary encounters of life together in our varied society. And it is this kind of confidence that saves us from being led by fashion, by the issues of the day: the truth for and about human beings is not something that can be decided simply by the majority vote of our culture – whether on war or sex or economics or ecology.

And if there is one thing I long for above all else, it's that the years to come may see Christianity in this country able again to capture the imagination of our culture, to draw the strongest energies of our thinking and feeling into the exploration of what our creeds put before us.

Leaving Wales is going to be very hard indeed. I have been privileged to be part of a really vigorous and supportive team – not only my dear fellow bishops but also the mission and administrative staff of the Province. If they have taught me anything about being a bishop, I hope I can pass on that gift to those I shall be working with and for in this new post. I am grateful that they, along with my colleagues and fellow-Christians in the Monmouth diocese, have seen my possible move not as an abandonment but as a way of sharing more widely the life of our small Province. Recent experience in Wales as the new National Assembly has developed, and the Church's relation with government at every level has been worked at in new ways, has taught me a great deal about how the Church engages with and serves the life of a whole national community.

I still feel rather overwhelmed by the task facing me, but much supported by those who have promised their prayers and their practical help. In the months ahead, I want to try and do more listening than talking, as I have much to learn, and I hope you will bear with me in that process.

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