I take comfort in observing how other people cope when things don't go as expected. For example, what should a boss say when he presides over a group that is entrenched in disagreement?
If that boss is the Archbishop of the worldwide Anglican Church (Rowan Williams) then there is probably something wise and diplomatic to be said, useful for the rest of us to read, whether we are religious or not.
Williams’ task is how to sum up a ten day meeting that accomplished almost nothing. The 2009 Anglican Consultative Council was, apparently, a complete failure. Although men and women traveled to Jamaica from around the globe and spent ten days meeting they failed to accomplish anything. As I tuned in to the archived closing remarks I wondered how he could craft a twenty minute piece of rhetoric for his loggerheaded crew. (Aside: I get a "Ask the Priest" podcast that archives widely disparate miscellaneous church things like this.)
Williams began his closing remarks for the last day of the Anglican Consultative Council by noting that "there's no point in being too sanguine. Nobody’s moved very much in the last ten days".
He summed up the failures in an understated English way, saying that the delegates had turned out to be “not very good at resolution passing.” But he went farther, more than once explicitly calling the meeting a failure. Stunning!
Archbishop Williams clarified, saying there are miserable failures and glorious failures and that the delegates had a choice of which kind of failure to make this conference. The Gospel of Mark, taken as a whole, has a recurrent theme of leaders (the apostles) who “don’t get it” ( He pointedly noted that "the Gospel of Mark is bad news for elites".) In Mark these individuals risk being miserable failures. He suggested that he, the archbishop, as well as the listeners in the meeting, perhaps dpn’t get it, the it being the real meaning of the teachings of Jesus.
He noted that the real winners in the Gospel of Mark are the relative outsiders, The Centurion, several Marys, et al, who humbly find what nourishment is to be had in Jesus’ message and take from it spiritual food. These people, Williams points out, can be glorious failures, a preferred state to miserable failures. He called on the delegates to return home thinking "Markian thoughts" as he put it.
On lesser aspects of the speech he touched on Israel and on gay leaders.
I was surprised that he alluded to the Anglican Church being split on issues in “The Holy Land”. I wasn’t aware of this. Is he referring to pro-war/anti-war stances? Not sure.
On the more well known splits in the Anglican and Episcopal church Archbishop Williams noted that, where the “scapegoating” of gay and lesbian clergy was concerned, “the decisions that others have made, in other parts of the world, have put (liberals here) in a position, where (we) cannot commend the Christianity (we ) long to share with (our) neighbors with an ease or confidence because (we) feel that other Christians have somehow undermined (our) witness.” I found this to be a poignant defense of the liberal wing of the Anglican Church.
Links: There are a few blogger comments on that conference. Some neutral accounts of the meeting are from an attendant blogger Colin Coward at Changing Attitude. Some criticism of AOC Williams are here, from blogger Adrian Worsfold at Pluralist Speaks. I encountered Williams closing day speech in its entirity as part of the Ask The Priest podcast from April 22, 2009, searchable from the free iTunes podcast store. Thanks Colin Coward for the photo, from his blog, above.