CEC General Assembly: Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reflects on what it means to be blessed

17 June, 2023

Press Release No: 17/23
17 June 2023

Speaking at the Conference of European Churches (CEC) General Assembly in Tallinn, Estonia, on 17 June, Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered a lecture on “Living theologically: what blessing does the church of Christ bring?”

He explored the question of what it means to be blessed, or fortunate—and how that question impacts the way churches relate to today’s world.

He said: “Those who are not anxious about stockpiling their resources but acknowledge their dependence on mercy and gift; those who are hungry not for more security for themselves, but for a justice that is shared with all; those who are compassionate and without aggression, who are not afraid to be wounded, who labour for reconciliation – all these are people who have left behind the passion to be the possessors and managers of their destiny, people who know that it is only in relation to God, and to their brothers and sisters under God, that they will be fully human.”

“Instead of an obsessive longing to define their world and secure their control, they listen for the call of God and look for the gift of God in the needs of the world, and they find the courage to embrace the risks that this looking and listening can bring.”

Williams also discussed practical priorities and engagement with Europe’s political future.

“We do not have to prove our righteousness in order to have a claim on God’s gift, and so need not panic in the face of losing the stories that vindicate us against our enemies,” he noted.

“The good news is that we are free to tell another story, one that does not turn on the need for us to be in the right and in control.”

The environmental crisis overshadows every other issue, Williams insisted. “The story here is of an insanely unbalanced account of human entitlement and human capacity that has consistently, in the last three centuries, ignored any sense of the interdependence of human life and the life of the organic order as a whole: the life that matters has been, explicitly or implicitly, defined as human life – and human life lived in a specific mode, that of expanding consumption,” he said.

“Internal conflict in states as well as tensions between states are all made more acute in this scenario; it has been plausibly said that the wars of the next generation will be fought over water supplies.”

Love is the appropriate response to the world we are in, added Williams.

“Our witness and our gift to the future of our societies is our freedom to invite into the discourse of our societies the things that are routinely, almost automatically denied – including both the dimension of divine purpose and love, which grounds the recognition of the indestructible dignity of all that has been created by that love, and the specific voices that human power systems do not want to hear,” he said.

“There are plenty of forces in contemporary Europe whose currency is a fear that is incompatible with trust in God’s faithfulness and a scepticism about the urgent needs of the rest of the globe that is incompatible with the recognition of universal dignity – a recognition that is essentially a way of affirming the possibility of receiving the gift of God from a variety of strangers.”

In a response to the address, Rev. Dr Eva Guldanova, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia, thanked Williams for addressing the challenges people of faith are facing in the world today.

“The idea of story, or narrative, seems of central importance to the keynote address of Rowan Williams,” said Guldanova. “Has our story any value in itself? What is the relation between our stories and the image of God in which we were created?”

A second respondent, Maria Mountraki from the Orthodox Church of Finland, expressed appreciation to Williams for challenging people’s prejudices, biases, and divisive attitudes.

“By sharing a story that goes beyond borders and embracing strangers as sources of life, the church can help people break free from proving their righteousness and control,” said Mountraki. “It inspires concrete action and radical change.”

Download the full speech here.

For more information or an interview, please contact:

Naveen Qayyum
Communication Officer
Conference of European Churches
Rue Joseph II, 174 B-1000 Brussels
Tel. +32 486 75 82 36
E-mail: naveen@cec-kek.be
Website: www.ceceurope.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ceceurope
Twitter: @ceceurope
YouTube: Conference of European Churches
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