Nikaean Club, Canterbury, 27 February 2003
Your Grace, Mrs Williams, members of the Nikaean Club, honoured guests. It is a privilege to be able to offer a few brief thoughts on this day of celebration, and to speak on behalf of the many distinguished guests present this evening. I trust we are of one heart and mind in wanting to express our gratitude for the beauty of today's celebration, and our hope that Your Grace's ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury will be richly blessed by God.
Some 40 years ago, between the first and second sessions of the Second Vatican Council, John Heenan was enthroned as Archbishop of Westminster. In his enthronement address, he spoke of the bishop as a builder of bridges. He stated: "There is already one Westminster Bridge, but I propose to build several more. They will be spiritual bridges but not the less durable on that account. One of these bridges will span the Thames from Westminster to Lambeth, where a dear friend resides."
That "dear friend", Archbishop Michael Ramsey, was a bridge-builder himself. When he travelled to Rome in March 1966, Pope Paul VI told him he was rebuilding a bridge which for centuries had lain fallen between the Church of Rome and the Church of Canterbury: "a bridge of respect, of esteem and of charity." Paul VI characterised that bridge as yet unstable and "still under construction". In the intervening years it has grown much more stable. While it is still very much under construction, it has carried me here today without a wobble.
Here in this country you now have a tunnel, a "chunnel", that links you to the continent. This is good and convenient. But in my opinion it doesn't hold up as a good ecumenical metaphor for your forthcoming ministry. I don't know what a spiritual chunnel would look like, and besides, we don't want to meet in the dark; it's better to keep building bridges, in the light. I imagine that three types of bridge-building will shape your own ministry: the bridge across the separation of the ages, which links us to our ancient common traditions and gives us our bearings; the bridges of unity, both within the Anglican Communion and between the Anglican Communion and your ecumenical dialogue partners; and bridges between the Christian faith and present-day cultures, our contemporary world with its joys and hopes, its grief and anguish.
The first of these bridges, the one linking us to our common spiritual foundations, is evoked by the name of the Club which is so graciously hosting us this evening. The Nikaean Club was founded in 1926, following the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. I was grateful to learn that the club is not named after a famous running shoe, but after the first universal council of the Early Church, which condensed in a few solemn words the essence of our Christian beliefs. Your Grace, I know you have studied, taught and even written books on the early church. You know this tradition well and love it deeply. This ancient common heritage - the Scriptures, the early Councils, the writings of the Church Fathers - this is the foundation that links the Anglican Communion to your ecumenical partners, each in a different way. With the Catholic Church, those common traditions include not only the Scriptures and foundational doctrines of the first Councils, but shared spiritual and liturgical traditions, the monastic life, the role of the bishop as a guardian of unity, and much more. Together with our ecumenical partners, we know that this ancient heritage is not something that belongs in your British Museum. It is not dry bones, but something ever enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Your Grace, I trust you will have many opportunities to show it to be a continuing source of life and light for your people and for society in its struggles.
In terms of building bridges for the sake of unity, I would like to mention the fine Statement issued by you and Cardinal Cormac a week ago today on the crisis involving Iraq. Reading it, I could not help but think that the spiritual bridge between Westminster and Lambeth was standing strong as ever, giving witness to the Lord's desire that his disciples be reconcilers and peacemakers. With a clear and united voice, you have said what needs to be said; not minimising the danger of the present moment, but counselling that we have not yet exhausted all peaceful means to resolve this situation.
When the Lord prayed that his disciples would be one, it was "so that the world might believe." The Christian churches have been walking the road of dialogue, and must continue on this road; but a bridge in constant need of attention is the one which takes us from dialogue to common mission and back. Our world would greatly benefit from our common witness and joint mission on many fronts: seeking together to be instruments of peace and justice, through means which themselves are peaceful and just; jointly serving the Gospel by defending the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; safeguarding the integrity of creation; encouraging the values which give rise to healthy and stable relationships within families and communities; promoting constructive dialogue between differing religions and cultures; and creatively fostering an ecumenism of life, so that our ecclesial lives better reflect the degree of faith that we presently share. I join with all of your ecumenical partners here this evening in saying that we greatly look forward to working with you in furthering our common witness and mission.
Finally, regarding the challenge of bridging the gap between the Gospels and present-day culture, one could say much, but I will only say this: you are a theologian with keen perception in reading the signs of the times; a scholar with an ear bent to the ground; a poet, with a deep sensitivity to language. All of these talents will be well put to use, for the task at hand is not simply to build bridges but - by the grace of God - to become a bridge, so that talk about God, about a boundless mercy, about the crucified and risen Lord, and the hope and treasure we carry within us, spans the distance between the Gospels and the farthest reaches of our contemporary world.
Your Grace, when your nomination was announced, you observed that during the months and weeks leading up to it, you had undergone the curious experience of having everything about you discussed publicly, and "opinions you didn't know you held expounded on your behalf." Your Grace, beware! I cite from my own experience: it is not going to get better! So now, on behalf of all of us, I wish you this: Amidst whatever turmoil surrounds you, may you, your wife and family always know the Lord's consolation, the Spirit's joy. May the deep roots of the Gospels and the ancient common traditions ever strengthen, inspire and guide you. May the glory of the Lord be daily revealed to you, making of your ministry a bridge so that others may know that glory too.
It is now my pleasure to offer a toast to the Nikaean Club and its members - of course not excluding the Archbishop in this toast! With heartfelt thanks for this wonderful evening and your gracious hospitality, with gratitude for your work in assisting the Archbishop of Canterbury, by providing a context which brings together meaningful conversation and celebration, let us now stand and join in a toast to the Nikaean Club and its members.