It's hard to imagine a more unlikely figure than Rowan as Archbishop of Canterbury. Having met him a few times I am always struck at how disarmingly normal he is. There is an air of the monastic about him - a life lived sincerely in prayer and of course study. He has a gravitas about him which people can identify with - he's not comfortable with centre-stage but to sit and listen to others and to contribute meaningfully and with insight when his attention is aroused. In many ways he is as approachable as Ramsey was and yet with an intellect to match (or excel) that of another one of his predecessors - St Anselm. Like many others who have fallen under the charms of the ‘Rowan affect’ I have found him to be warm, yet not overly emotional, intelligent, yet not over-bearing (his sermons and speeches have often been more elucidating than his books). I’m not the only person who has fallen for his charms - I’ve talked to people who have turned to him in times of great suffering and pain (ranging from a woman within days of her death-bed to a young woman struggling with her faith following the death of her young and physically robust husband to cancer) each one of them found him compassionate and eager to just enjoy their company and to hear their concerns and worries – as well as to promise to pray with them. What more can you ask for from a man of Christ?
Was he the right man for the job? I hope that history will look kindly on a man who intellectually stood head and heels above his peers, yet had not been born with a chip on his shoulder (I am reminded of a friend telling me in the cloisters of Canterbury – ‘the worrying thing about Rowan is that he is the first person to forget that he is the Archbishop of Canterbury – yet with X, [one his predecessors,] he was always the first person to remind you that is was!). That connectedness with others has a longer history - as Rupert Shortt highlighted in his book on Rowan - he is very much a product of his families long Christian faith and so it shows in his humility and lack of formal pretence around others. In many ways, like Karol Wojtyła and Angelo Roncalli, he has been ill at ease with the trappings of his office for instance no formal professional distance to keep the public at bay instead here was someone who was happy to sit where you were and listen to you and your concerns for as long as you wanted.
I also think history will look kindly on him as he never attempted to put a fresh coat of paint on the strains within the Anglican Communion. Instead he was eager to seek a common ground and to gather all under the broad room which is the Anglican Church. The Church has always been in crisis - why should we expect that our time should be any different than past centuries?
On a more sentimental note, I’ll personally miss seeing him wondering around Canterbury particularly in the bookshops as well as his delightfully illuminating and meaty lectures during Holy Week in the Cathedral. Here the ‘Rowan affect’ went into Stella proportions with standing ovations and a genuine love for a man who looked so ill at ease at the podium compared to his predecessors. I also think those who have worshipped alongside him and with him in Canterbury Diocese will also miss him – in what he refers to as his ‘part-time non-stipendiary ministry in the diocese’ where he did locum work providing help in officiating and generally helping out when he was free – which was warmly received by those outside the Cathedral.
What next for Rowan? At Magdalen College he will no doubt have a huge impact on the lives of the students not only with his intellect and experience but also his pastoral oversight and wisdom. (It's hard not to imagine how much more inspiring the 'Rowan affect' will have on those young hearts and minds - at such a pivotal stage in their development.) He will so have the opportunity to further extend his already growing catalogue of work not just theological tomes, but also poetry and perhaps a more personal reflection on his time as Our Archbishop of Canterbury.
What next for the Church? Already the selection process for the next archbishop has met and is to meet again this month - of course in secret, although I am sure we will know everything that is said (faster than you can say twitter!) about each of the candidates and why they weren't nominated. The next candidate might need to have the skin of a rhinoceros but they will equally have a huge set of shoes to step into once they are vacated by Rowan. Personally I think his pastoral prowess which will be the harder of all his skills to match. The new archbishop might need to have the diplomatic skills to keep the northern and southern hemispheres of the church together over the issues currently facing it. But they will also need to be able to speak as easily with the Bishop of Rome and his cardinals - whom he has recently been addressing during the celebrations surrounding the anniversary of Vatican II, as well as the sick and elderly with such skills and patience as Rowan did - if that's not an impossible job then I don't know what is.