Friday, May 11, 2012

searching for Barry

So what does the appointment of Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, mean for the Crown Nominations Commission as it seeks to find Rowan William’s successor as Archbishop of Canterbury?

First things first: anyone on the commission can’t be elected to Canterbury. So Wales won’t have two ABCs in a row. Barry has a mixed profile in Wales – lots of people there think very highly of him, and lots don’t quite see it that way; on the whole, it’s probably a good thing he’s not in the running. He would divide English opinion more sharply than Rowan has!

Without doubt Barry is one of the more liberal primates of the Anglican Communion. He is passionately in favour of women bishops, and was fairly devastated when Wales did not vote for this measure a couple of years back. He is also very clearly pro-gay rights, though I’ve quizzed him on this at some length & it seems to me he shares a lot of liberalism’s standard double-standards on this issue – which is to say that at times liberals appear to be happy for gays in the church to exist slightly in hiding (just get on with it, people don’t need to know). I always want to say – if it’s right, why should anyone hide? People are people, or they aren’t. Make your mind up & be 100% clear on this for the sake of those who are actually around here & now - it's not just a matter of theory. Or maybe I wanted to challenge him to be more liberal than his role allows him to be!

Character wise, I'd say Barry is feisty. He does not suffer fools gladly, which is a bit rough when you work for the church of God. On the other hand, he doesn’t hold grudges. You might get both barrels fired at you, but then friendship is restored. I rather like this about him; I find it godly. There is, in my experience, little ‘side’ to his nature. I'm told he can be a consummate politician, but I’d say he prefers to be up front and if needs be to be petulant or brash – and then to pray and have a cup of tea with you. This is life; life without running sores.

There are running sores, of course. His faith is deep and true and passionate. But Barry is a theological liberal by conviction, temperament and practice. And so he really, really doesn’t get evangelicals at all. At all. To be fair, most evangelicals don’t get Barry; they hear his incendiary media remarks (“I’d happily ordain a gay bishop”) and go off the deep end, without listening to where that comes from or noticing that he spends far, far more time urging Christians to commit themselves to Christ, to prayer, to sharing their faith, to deeper discipleship and to honest worship of God. Barry & evangelicals tend to have a hate/hate relationship that in my experience was totally uncalled for.

My experience. As an evangelical working in Barry’s diocese, we had our differences. He put a rocket under me more than once. I replied in like manner to his face. That’s how it worked between us, and it did work – as I say, he never held a grudge, and nor did I. I found him to be a wonderful, godly, good man. When I was ill & needed help, he stepped in. Personally. Caringly. Financially. It pained him that he didn’t get me; we talked things through at great length, and what I genuinely believe we did have was a deep respect for each other.

So what does Barry’s appointment mean for Rowan’s successor? Well, I wouldn’t hold your breath for a George Carey clone; unreconstructed evangelicalism is hardly going to be his primary port of call.

It would be easy to imagine Barry might look for someone in his own image; like many liberals, there are times he gives off the air that if only people were more educated, we’d all understand & life would be so much better for everyone.

That’s not just a liberal problem, though, is it?

Part of me would not be at all surprised if it was his natural inclination to try to find a thoughtful, liberally minded, reasonably intellectual candidate as his ideal. Rowan-lite. But that really doesn’t do Barry justice at all. That’s the caricature.

I’ve said it already – he’s a good, godly man.

He prays. He cares. He takes things very seriously, and carries responsibility with a great sense of godly duty. His words are not just words. There is always something of the RS Thomas within him, something of the Celt that the English simply fail to comprehend. It loves the unloved and rails against the unlover. This is a deeply biblical liberalism that is critical and pastoral and able to punish itself at surprising moments. Or to be selfish. It is a very human humanity.

I do not think his appointment will be what many think it will be; as of course Rowan’s was not; for the same reasons. He’s very Welsh, you know.

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