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Archbishop's reply to welcome at ACC-15

Saturday 27th October 2012

Auckland's Anglican students welcomed Archbishop Rowan Williams with a Haka Powhiri at the start of the 15th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in New Zealand.

Dr Williams responded by thanking his hosts and celebrating the place of the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia in the Communion's past and present.

A transcript of the Archbishop's speech follows, or listen to an audio recording [3Mb, 8 mins]

Reply to Welcome

at the Telstra Pacific Events Centre, Manukau

ACC 15, Auckland New Zealand

Saturday,  27 October 2012


Glory to God in the Highest and peace to God’s people on earth.

In the name of Christ I greet you all, saluting all of you who have come here to welcome us so memorably and so warmly this morning, saluting all those whose memory we carry in our hearts also, and speaking on behalf of all those who have come to join us in Council in these days ahead and whose discussions you have encouraged by your welcome and your prayer so very joyfully and so very generously. 

Greetings and salutations, above all, to our brothers and sisters in this province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, a Province which has a very special place in the Anglican family because so much of what now characterises our Anglican identity worldwide owes its origins to a great deal of what Selwyn and his colleagues did here.

We look back to the work of Bishop Selwyn, Bishop Patteson and others in these parts of the world and elsewhere in the Pacific as the work of those who sought to rethink what the Church might be when it was a long way from its historic home, a long way from Europe, and particularly a long way from Westminster and Canterbury.  The idea that it was possible to be a different kind of church, a Church in which the many voices of lay people, clergy and bishops could all be heard together in Synod, that vision of a different kind of Church owes so much to what happened here.

At the moment, you in the Province are engaged in a brave, creative experiment in living together in difference within this Province.  That experiment is, you might say, part of the whole experiment of New Zealand itself: the experiment of living in a world of more than one culture; the experiment which this city is pushed towards by the mere fact of the great multicultural variety that exists here.

As we meet as an Anglican Consultative Council, we hope to be feeling for the heartbeat of the society we are in and the Province whose guests we are; feeling for the heartbeat of a life which constantly seeks to come to terms with that difference, that pluralism, of human endeavour and human imagination represented in the history of this country and in the history of the Anglican Church in this Province.

Last year in the United Kingdom, we celebrated a very significant anniversary. It was the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the King James Bible, that classic translation of scripture into the English Language which has shaped so much of our world’s history.  One of the leading translators of that version of the Bible was Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of the great scholars and preachers of his day.  As I reflect on the experience of this country and this Province, and indeed on what we are trying to do as an Anglican Council meeting in these weeks, words of his from one of his sermons come back to me. He preached a number of sermons on the theme of Pentecost, a word we’ve already heard referred to this morning. He draws our attention to the fact that on the first day of Pentecost, when the Spirit descended on the friends of Jesus in the upper room, tongues of fire appeared hovering over their heads – but they were, as the Bible says, “cloven tongues”, divided tongues of two peaks.  “Now,” asks Bishop Andrewes, “why are the tongues of fire divided?  Because no one human tongue alone can fully tell of the works of God.”

The divided tongues of fire at Pentecost tell us that where the Holy Spirit is there is conversation, there is the mixing of what different tongues can tell, because no one language alone, no one culture alone, can carry the full weight of what it is that God wants to share with us, God’s children.  Bishop Andrewes points out that it’s not an accident that the Bible itself has two original languages, not one: Hebrew and Greek. As we think about what that might mean for us today, we think of the enrichment that comes from hearing and speaking the praises of God in more than one mode, in more than one culture, in more than one language.

As was mentioned earlier this morning, I have the enormous privilege of coming from a bicultural environment, growing up in a family where two languages were always heard around the table.  I’m delighted and grateful that you’ve been generous enough to give me a chance, if not to sing in Welsh, at least to sing a Welsh hymn with you this morning.  To grow up in a world where more than one language is spoken in your home is to grow up realising that humanity is never going to be itself if it tries only to speak one language, to act one way, to deal with people who are like oneself.

So, I ask, brothers and sisters, for your prayers for our Anglican Consultative Council; your prayers for a Pentecostal experience that divided tongues of fire will touch us all in the days ahead; that we shall learn to listen to one another’s languages, experience and insight with all the enthusiasm and eagerness with which we would listen to God’s own Word.  I pray that we shall have a fiery, kindling experience as we meet together and find our own language renewed in listening to others.

We shall pray, in turn, that this experiment that is Aotearoa New Zealand, this experiment that is the Church of the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, we shall pray that these experiments will also be marks and signs of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today.  And be signs of hope for a world in which, by God’s purpose and God’s promise, one of these days, all the islands will rise and sing.

Thank you.

© Rowan Williams 2012

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