When Rowan Williams publicly confirmed in March what some insiders had for months expected, that he would be standing down as Archbishop of Canterbury in the coming months, he was diplomatic about the reasons behind a move he didn’t have to make until 2020.
During a round of interviews, a rueful Williams did at one point admit to certain “frustrations” in the job. But he did not identify them explicitly.
Chief among these are believed to be the church’s preoccupation—near obsession—with matters of gender and sexuality. At home, the issue of women bishops is set to dominate the Church of England as it comes delicately to some sort of a head at General Synod this summer. Elsewhere, extremists in Africa and the US, on both sides of the divide over homosexuality and the Anglican Communion, lead some in Lambeth Palace to say: “a plague on both your houses.”
These questions have been forced on much of Williams’s time as Archbishop. As he once told me, they “filled the sky” in the run up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, which—despite apocalyptic forecasts—Williams navigated his very broad church through, after intense preparation and prayer.
But Williams has always been the reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, in the job through calling and not ambition. “I’m always tempted to say that anybody who wants to be Archbishop deserves to be,” he told me after the Lambeth Conference.