Anglicans To Get New Spiritual Head

The resignation of the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, comes at a time of tension within the Anglican Church over issues related to homosexuality as well as women bishops. Vicki Barker has reaction to the news.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The roughly 77 million Christians who form the worldwide Anglican Communion are getting a new spiritual leader. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, announced this past week that he is stepping down at the end of the year. Vicki Barker reports on how ordinary Anglicans see the change.

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VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The 11 o'clock service at Christ Church Turnham Green in West London. Vicar Richard Moy presides over that rare thing in the Church of England - a thriving congregation.

RICHARD MOY: Apparently, the one common denominator of a growing church, according to national statistics, is a drum kit. We proudly have one on display.

BARKER: The archbishop of Canterbury is a largely distant figure in a vicar's daily life, Moy says. But he can still have a big impact.

MOY: If you have an archbishop who's confidently portraying the faith and enabling other people to access some of the big questions, the difficult questions - through TV, radio - then that really helps on the ground level.

BARKER: Rowan Williams' own track record on that score has been mixed. Widely seen as a holy - some say saintly - man, Williams is also primarily a scholar, whose natural home is the seminar room. That's why Churchwarden Jan Tellick thinks he's done the right thing in stepping down.

JAN TELLICK: My personal view is it's probably good. I think he's a wonderful man, wonderfully intelligent, wonderful academic, but he's not a great communicator.

BARKER: Here's what Britain's media have communicated about Williams: that his last-ditch attempt to prevent schism - a moratorium on appointing any more openly gay bishops - was about to be defeated, that he has ultimately failed to heal the breach between liberals in the shrinking North American Church and the far more conservative - and fastest growing - African congregations.

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BARKER: But to many in the pews here in Britain, those issues are tangential to what they see as more central Christian concerns of alleviating physical and spiritual poverty. And players on both sides of Anglicanism's ideological divide here have so far declined to score partisan points over Williams' departure - a reminder that replacing an archbishop of Canterbury is not like selecting an American presidential nominee. Worshipper Phil Quenby has some advice for the next archbishop of Canterbury.

PHIL QUENBY: Controversy about homosexuality or any other issue - those things in themselves are side issues. Go back to the central message. Stick firm with that, and everything else will come right.

BARKER: There is a growing sense among British Anglicans that the way things will come right is for the different sides to go their separate ways. That will be a matter for Rowan Williams' successor. Williams himself has said that whoever holds the job of archbishop needs the constitution of an ox and the hide of a rhinoceros. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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