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Dame Mary Tanner's speech at Nikaean Club Farewell Dinner

Thursday 27th September 2012

The full text of Dame Mary Tanner's speech at the Nikaean Club Farewell Dinner is below:

Archbishop Rowan


Dame Rosemary

Dear Friends, Fellow Members of the Club

Tonight must be for each of us a time of mixed emotions. Sadness as the time draws near for us to bid farewell to Rowan as Archbishop of Canterbury and to Jane. But our sadness has to be tempered by our understanding that 10 years of relentless demands and almost unbearable pressures of office are enough and, however selfishly we might wish it were not so, we must feel a sense of relief for both Rowan and Jane. But tonight as we wine and dine it is not so much sadness but deep gratitude for Archbishop Rowan’s ecumenical ministry that must fill this hall.

As one of the Presidents of the World Council of Churches, I have had the privilege these last years of meeting leaders of many churches . Without exception they have spoken of their deep affection for Archbishop Rowan.  ‘ Ah Rowan’ and a look of awe  comes over their faces. A few days ago as I said farewell at the end of a meeting to the saintly Archbishop Anastasias of Albania, his parting words were - ‘greet Rowan, how we shall miss dear Rowan as Archbishop of Canterbury’. I have so often basked in the reflected  love and admiration of our ecumenical friends for Archbishop Rowan. I’ve been so proud of you Rowan!  Lour Archbishop is much loved and looked to for wisdom, in old monasteries and new ecclesial movements alike.

In 2008 Archbishop Rowan hosted the Lambeth Conference inviting 75 ecumenical participants – insisting that they were not observers but participants. I remember that when they gathered together to reflect on the Conference, they spoke of their admiration for the Archbishop’s leadership, his insightful reflections  at the mid-point of the Conference,  and then, at the end gathering it all together,  and making space for ecumenical guests to respond freely to what they had been a part of.

Some months ago I was invited to read a paper to the Ecumenical Society on any subject of my choice. I knew immediately what I wanted to explore  –  the ecumenical ministry of one Rowan Williams.  I spent days breathlessly following Rowan’s ecumenical travels, pondering his sermons and addresses on Christian unity. I encountered an all-round ecumenist, like his predecessor, Archbishop Robert Runcie. This was seen in the many events that Archbishop Rowan has been a part of. It’s hard to select from them : but who can forget   the Archbishop of Canterbury  with his brother bishops welcoming the Pope and Roman Catholic Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland here at Lambeth Palace and then accompanying them across the river to the service of evening prayer in Westminster Abbey, and then  the sight of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan standing  at the altar,  reverencing the Canterbury Gospels together, exchanging  the kiss of peace, kneeling in prayer and  giving the blessing together? Symbolic actions convey so much more than words. And there have been many meetings with Pope Benedict. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall listening to these two great giants enjoying theological conversation.  At troubled times in our Anglican Communion, Rowan has not been too proud to ask our friends to accompany us, nor, at delicate times has he been afraid to challenge.

Then there was the visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople and a welcoming of His All Holiness here, again symbolised in Vespers at Westminster Abbey; and that very quiet landmark visit this Eastertide, the first of a serving Archbishop, to Mount Athos heralded by bells wherever he went.  Rowan has spoken out on the fate of Christians in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and attempted to draw the Patriarchs and Heads of churches in Jerusalem into closer collaboration with one another.

But not only has he developed relations with Rome and the Orthodox. There have been addresses to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland;  the Lutheran World Federation and  the Methodist Conference and the recent service of reconciliation to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Great Ejection.  Probably, the most often remembered presentation at the last Assembly of the World Council of Churches is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s on ‘Christian Identity and Religious Plurality’. And it has not ended yet. Our prayers will go with you Rowan as you address the Synod of Bishops in Rome and attend the Mass to celebrate the Jubilee of the opening sessions of Vatican II. 

All of these and so many other all-round ecumenical commitments have been mirrored in your local ecumenical activity in this country, nurturing the Methodist Covenant, the relations with Black Majority Churches and the relations of growing communion with the Meissen and Porvoo Churches. Undergirding all these relations, locally and at world level,  has been your insistence on the place of theological convergence in the work of the dialogues – setting up ARCIC III, the new phase of Anglican-Orthodox conversations, and always supporting the work of Faith and Order.      

As I read through Archbishop Rowan’s addresses and sermons,  I found myself often near to tears – tears of delight, ‘yes that’s it’ ,mixed with tears of frustration –‘ why can’t we all get it’, as I encountered a vision of the unity of the Church in the biggest picture of the unity of human community, the unity of creation – a church, eucharistically centred and  turned outwards in service and mission. The argument about Church unity was never about the structural or institutional but always grounded in the personal and relational life and love of God. ‘The Church and its unity has to look like God and speak of God’s life’. Rowan has given us an ecumenical agenda, but most important is his constant insistence that we must look at one another and recognise in one another the same attractiveness, not ours but Christ’s, so that we can say - ‘ in this Christian community the radiance of Christ is to be seen’. This is not arid ecumenical joinery: it’s transformative ecumenism.

Friends,  let any sadness we have tonight give way to gratitude for Archbishop Rowan’s  ecumenical  ministry  in the Church of England, the Anglican Communion and in the broadest ecumenical movement – an attractive, lovely personal  ministry of unity - which Archbishop Rowan has shared with us in this Club, as he has shared his ecumenical friends with us. Friendship is the seed bed in which unity blossoms as our Nikaean Club knows.  Jane,  thank you for gracing us with your presence and for your own theological writings.  Archbishop  Rowan, thank you for leading us in the cause of Christian unity. When you have both taken some rest, please go on inspiring us and urging us on to visible unity.

So, Friends -welcome to our feast with Archbishop Rowan and Jane, let us eat and drink merrily in gratitude for Archbishop R owan’s ecumenical ministry.

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