Today, Dr. Rowan Williams announced that he is retiring as Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Church of England and “First among Equals” of the prelates of the 80 million member Anglican Communion.
I was once a member of the Anglican Communion. I was baptized in what was then called the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA (since renamed The Episcopal Church), the U.S. part of Anglicanism that broke away from the Church of England after the Revolutionary War, but remained in communion with it. I returned to active participation in the Episcopal Church as an adult, but then left in 2010 to join the Catholic Church, which I did at Easter 2011.
I left the Episcopal Church while Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury, but I don’t blame the Archbishop (or anyone else really). I had to leave for me: not for any of the controversies that threatened to tear the Communion apart or that sent traditionalist Anglicans off to either the Roman Catholic Ordinariate or to a schismatic “continuing Anglican” denomination, but to be authentic to my own developing beliefs of the true nature of Christ’s Church.
I explained my reasons last May, shortly after I joined the Catholic Church, and—to lighten the mood—I started off with a joke:
There was once a guy who was stranded on a deserted island. After many years, a passing ship found him. As he showed the crew around the island, they were amazed at the many structures he had built for himself:
“So what is that building?”
“That’s my house.”
“And that one over there?”
“My shower and my outhouse.”
“And the oval area over there?”
“A track that I run around daily.”
“And the big building with the steeple?”
“That’s my church.”
The crew looked puzzled. “If that’s your church, then what’s the bigger building with the even taller steeple?”
“That’s the church I used to belong to.”
The point of the piece is that the only place I found the Four Marks of the Church— One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic—was in the Catholic Church, which for all its faults it is the only communion in the western stream of Christianity that takes Christ’s command to “love one another as I have love you” seriously enough to have maintained visible unity since the time of the apostles.
What saddens me today is this: among Anglican bishops few take the command to “love one another” more seriously than Dr. Williams does. He has spent the last ten years trying in every way possible to hold the Anglican Communion together, to not contribute to the long and sorry history of schism. He still believes, as I once did, that the Anglican Communion is a branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and he has made it his mission to keep it one.
I am sorry that I left while he was Archbishop. It was nothing personal. I wish him and his family all the blessings that God would see fit to shower upon him. He is a true Christian in a profession that often seems more concerned with politics and power than with Christ.