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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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Archbishop of Canterbury's Opening Statement

Friday 21st February 2003

Dr Rowan Williams at a Pre-Enthronement Press Conference

Becoming Archbishop of Canterbury is a slow process – the best part of seven months between announcement and public installation. There are good reasons for all this, but it brings its own challenges. The enthronement next week is the point at which I become visibly and publicly Bishop of a particular diocese. And while there are all sorts of other things going on, especially the element of celebration for a worldwide communion of churches, the service is essentially about taking root somewhere, as a pastor and teacher in this corner of England.

Because the demands that public events have made in recent months have been heavy, it would be easy to run away with the idea that being Archbishop of Canterbury was more about trying to formulate Christian comment on issues of the day and finding some sort of position among other 'leaders', administrators and pundits. Looking for a public voice that can be taken seriously is important, of course. But next week's event has to be the central reality. No bishop or archbishop is anything without being anchored in the life of local groups of people simply trying to be Christian together in prayer and action.

So there is a real sense in which next week is the beginning of the real job: joining with local communities, to learn from them and share with them, and seeking not primarily a public voice to comment on public affairs, but a way of deepening and enriching people's faith. Getting the balance right is always going to be hard for someone in a position as exposed as the Archbishop's, but he will not be doing his job if he doesn't do this bit of it – talking to the people of the parishes about God and Jesus Christ, and about their lives in the light of God.

That's what I look forward to next week. There will be the big service on Thursday, and then on Sunday events for me to meet the Cathedral congregation and the worshippers of the diocese. It's not empty words to say that I shall be expecting them to teach me as well as the other way round: that's been my experience in Wales, and I've no doubt that the same will be true here.

We need not just individual Christian commentators but a community of Christians whose life together looks credible and attractive – people who sound as though they know what it is like to be human now, and how to open up their humanity to a God who can make humanity more deeply what it's meant to be; people who know a bit about how to pray, how to relate their lives to the life of Jesus Christ, and how to bring hope into hopeless situations. All Christian teaching, whether it comes from a Sunday School teacher, a priest, an experienced and compassionate layperson, or even an archbishop, is directed to that goal of helping a community to develop that understands how to learn and share wisdom with other human beings. That's what I want to be a part of.

© Rowan Williams 2003

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