Will Cookson, of Springfield Church, Wallington, Surrey, reports how a long-planned visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury became a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In his first visit to a church since the announcement of his resignation, Rowan Williams discussed the practicalities of the announcement and why he believes God persuaded him to take fresh expressions of church seriously.
Sometimes events just present themselves. Months ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, accepted an invitation to the 20th anniversary celebration of our fresh expression of church. This took place on Sunday (18th March) – just two days after Rowan had announced he was standing down!
His press officer spoke to me about how she was trying to keep the media away from the service (seemingly the BBC had expressed an interest). It had always been the plan that I would interview him but there suddenly felt more pressure - especially as he only gave one interview to the Press Association and wasn't giving others - and I felt a real concern not to embarrass him.
The day turned out to be an amazing one. He arrived for a youth breakfast prior to the service of celebration. His new chaplain commented to me that he (the chaplain that is) found it a bit of a 'culture shock but that shows how marvellous the Church of England is'. There were so many wonderful highlights and memories to take from it. The enthusiasm of Rowan with the young people, the handing out of flowers to the children and his obvious joy in blessing the youngsters, his sermon without notes, his obvious humility and warmth and his tangible holiness.
I believe that the service will be remembered as a key event in the life of Springfield. No-one can ever again say that they don't feel Springfield should be part of the Church of England (externally or internally). I believe that it has given our church a confidence in its place and its mission that has been deepened by his visit.
My planned 5-10 minute interview in front of the congregation actually turned into 20 minutes because my clock broke!! I can't say I was sad about that… it was a great privilege and Rowan said some important things as part of it.
In his resignation he said that one of the two things that gave him most satisfaction was the launch of Fresh Expressions. So I asked him about what had convinced him of the need for Fresh Expressions.
His answer was initially brief: 'God'. He went on to describe how as a Bishop in Monmouth he was aware of so many different things happening outside the church and when he became Archbishop that
there ought to be some way of connecting all that with the mainstream of the Church more effectively and more intentionally.
He then said that it felt like Graham Cray's report [Mission-shaped Church] was
one of those moments that God had prepared - things slotted together.
His visible commitment to Fresh Expressions around the country has ensured that they have been given the space to thrive and grow. It gives places like Springfield and others space to come into being and to be reminded that
the Church is always being restored and renewed from unexpected places.
A marvellous, wonderful, life-giving day. Thank you Rowan for being such a prophetic Archbishop!
A full transcript of the Archbishop's address can be found on the Archbishop of Canterbury's website.