LAST EVENING IN MANCHESTER with Archbishops Rowan & Sentamu was always going to be time well spent for me. Billed as Relations between Church and State Today – (Paul Deakin has posted The Big Society) – Archbishop Rowan delivered a tour-de-force on Citizenship – video of which will shortly be available at Manchester University.
Speaking of the need in any society for a polis – home of citizens and of citizenship, where no-one is a slave and everyone is afforded the status due to all human persons, each of them free – the Church, alongside the State is to be such a polis - adult and intelligent environment for argument about all that is best, about all that might be of God, with no desire to “force a vision on everyone else”, still less expecting to “told” by others to be what, in others’ eyes, archbishops – or Christians – are “supposed to be”, the ekklesia gathered around Jesus Christ can be a mature, faithful, trustworthy forum for debate about all that facilitates dignity for all humanity.
All good stuff. But I was particularly, literally, fascinated by the very high degree to which the archbishop’s own considered, considerate and cultured person illustrates the content of what he had to say. Archbishop Rowan is possessed of a most extra-ordinary charisma, one that helps me understand how tax collectors and fishermen 2000 years ago on the shores of Galilee could have been so easily persuaded to follow in “The Way”.
Were there 500 people gathered in the Whitworth Hall? – maybe more. But no more than a minute after taking a seat on the stage it seemed that the Archbishop had discreetly scanned the entire assembly, was comfortably aware of the crowd as individual persons open to learning something together, like he’d known them for years – and knew what they’d come for. There’s an instantly personable humility and a warm humanity about him. Standing at a lectern he leaned towards the large audience; the Archbishop of York, in the front row before him, acknowledged simply and warmly, without a hint of ecclesiastical pomposity, as “Your Grace”. Twinkling eyes, mobile eyebrows, gentle humour and smile, perfect diction, quietly spoken (yet heard by everyone) – definitely an archiepiscopal face.
Then Archbishops Rowan and Sentamu fielded questions. Graciously, and here again, and at the drinks reception afterwards, I noticed, perfectly at ease. Forum for learning, discussion, drinks and argument these teachers moved fluidly, and welcomed, IN a big society. I found myself warmed, somehow deeply touched, as was my URC/Methodist friend and colleague Geoffrey Clarke, to be in company with these two. It’s hard to imagine that the particular (Church of England department) of the polis that Archbishop Rowan spoke about could be in better hands than those of this – really inspirational – archiepiscopal duo.