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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's sermon to Marae leaders in Christchurch, New Zealand

Saturday 3rd November 2012

During a visit to Christchurch nearly two years after its devastating earthquake, Archbishop Williams told Marae Anglican leaders that great traumas challenge communities - from New York after 9/11 to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina - to "find ways of being together more deeply and more faithfully than ever." Drawing on Old and New Testament lessons, the Archbishop stressed the presence of Christ in "every aspect of community, every aspect of life."

The full text of the sermon is below.

Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.  I wish peace to all those here who are present and peace to all those who have gone before us and whose memory we hold today.  Peace to the spirit of our brother in the priesthood who passed to his rest this week, and the spirits of all those who have perished here in disaster in the last two years. 

I thank you for the welcome that I have received here and that I have received throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand, in these past ten days.  I and my family and my friends have been made to feel profoundly accepted and part of family in our time here, and I acknowledge with much gratitude all those who have made us so welcome.  I acknowledge those who have come here today to welcome us to this place.  I acknowledge also the ground on which we stand here together, that ground so deeply shaken, so much a sign of suffering and of challenge in this last time.  And here in front of this sacred place I thank you again on behalf of those who have come with me and wish peace to all here.  Tena koto, tena koto, tena koto.

I have come here as a guest to the city which has suffered greatly, both during and after natural disaster.

When disasters happen, they are not simply a matter of physical challenge; they challenge people’s spirits in so many different ways.  They challenge our hearts and our imagination.  They challenge us not to fall apart as individuals or as communities.  They challenge us to find ways of being together more deeply and more faithfully than ever.  But in a way every city faces these challenges.  Every city is a place where people have decided to live, where people have come to live.  It’s not surprising that cities re-invent themselves so often in our day.  And after a great trauma or disaster affecting a city, there is a special opportunity for communities to decide how they are to be together, how they are to re-make themselves and what matters most to them.  How they are to discover a new commitment to one another. 

In the wake of disaster and trauma, a city has to decide what is it that binds it together above all?  What are the promises we make to one another in a city?  Because a truly healthy and just city is a place where people make promises to one another.  They promise to be there for one another’s safety and welfare, and our scriptural readings this evening underline the foundations that we have for making those promises.  In the Old Testament lesson we hear the words of the sovereign Lord, ‘I will re-settle your tribes, the ruins will be rebuilt’.  The foundation which he promises is God’s promise to re-settle, to rebuild.  God’s promise to re-create lives that have been scarred and shaken and broken, and the belief in that kind of God is perhaps the deepest motivation we can have of rebuilding every aspect of our life together.  But in the New Testament lesson that is given still more shape and direction, here is Christ speaking of the witness that he bears – a witness to himself as a witness to God the Father.  A witness to the God who does not go away.  We who are called to be Christ’s witnesses in this city, this country, and this world, we are here to make that act of testament, that act of witness.  We are promising ourselves as Church to this place, this soil, this community, these people.  Christ’s body on earth, his people, his family are here to make real Christ’s testimony, Christ’s witness to the God who promises to re-settle and rebuild.  Christ’s body on earth is here to announce its commitment to every part of the community, every dimension of its life.  I’ve seen that working itself out in other cities that have been through terrible trauma. 

I’ve been privileged to see something of what the Church has meant in Manhattan around Ground Zero, in New Orleans in the wake of the Hurricane.  I look forward with eagerness and expectation to seeing the same fidelity, the same generosity here in this city so significantly named for Christ’s Church.  And as Bishop of a Cathedral in another Canterbury, which is called Christchurch Cathedral, I come as a brother of faith in the family of Christ to tell you of the commitment and the loyalty that we in Canterbury and Canterbury Christchurch have felt in our prayers and our reflections in these last two years, and it is a great gift for me to be able to come in person to say these words to you, to affirm our belonging together, and to join you in that act of commitment, of fresh commitment to being Christ’s witnesses here to God’s promise to restore the lives that have been broken, the ground that has split apart, to build on that foundation a city of justice and generosity and welcome, which is what we all pray for the future of this beautiful and much afflicted place.

Thank you once again, and I wish you God’s blessing.

© Rowan Williams 2012

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