Honouring the Archbishop

As we come to the end of 2012, we are also marking the end of  the service of Archbishop Rowan Williams.
It was my incredible privilege to be asked to speak earlier this month at a reception to honour the Archbishop's contribution to Jewish Christian relations over the last decade, as reported by his own website here. You can also read the important words he delivered at the event on the same site. There were many there more qualified than I to speak, but as he emphasised in his own words, looking forward to new generations of dialoguers is essential and while Jewish Christian relations is often seen as the less sexy dialogue these days, especially with such pressing issues within Jewish Muslim dialogue, this is a huge challenge, and one we must overcome not only because so much ignorance and mistrust remains, but because we have so much to learn from such close and yet such different siblings.
And so with prayers for Archbishop Rowan as he begins a new stage of his life, and for the Anglican communion, I thought I would share my own words from that day, and hope for continued friendship.

Today is the midpoint between the start of advent and the beginning of Chanukah on Saturday night, so, my apologies that it is a little trite, but it seems the perfect time to be honouring the light that Archbishop Rowan has continued to shine on Jewish Christian relations over the last decade.
That is not to say it has all been easy. But together with his stalwart, and might I say well chosen, secretaries for interfaith affairs, we have been able to keep lines of communication open, and one might even say positive. Your commitment, Archbishop, has not just been in responding with an open heart in times of crisis, but to putting structures into place that might ensure a continued conversation and a growing relationship.
In no small part because of organisations such as the CCJ, Jewish Christian dialogue over the last seven decades has matured and grown, and our special relationship – often complicated as families tend to be – has enabled us all to grow within our own faiths, as well as in relationship to each other. Recognising this growth, you have nurtured groups like the Lambeth Jewish Forum, which I am so honoured to be a part of. Thanks to you, Archbishop, as well as the tireless efforts of Ed Kessler, and originally Reverend Guy Wilkinson and now Reverend Toby Howarth, the forum has brought together a group that for the last 5 years has been able to produce documents [found here and here] to aid others in their dialogue and personal journeying. But we have also been able to achieve a level of dialogue amongst ourselves, enabling us to learn from each other, embrace disagreement and maintain the dignity of our unique positions.
This Dialogue and relationship is now in such good health that we haven’t had to shy away from difficult topics. We hope our work and publications have in small ways helped some Jews and Christians understand each other better when it comes to Mission and the Holy Land. Clearly we haven’t entirely sorted either one out, but with institutions in The Church, as well as the Woolfe Institute, Leo Baeck College and the Board of Deputies to name a few, continuing to grapple with these questions, we do well to keep the door open, and it is at times of disagreement that our bonds are tested, and through which you have tried, Archbishop, to steer us all with compassion and sensitivity.
Of course our dialogue is so much more than issues over Israel and Palestine, but it is these difficult questions that remind us of the continued importance of our dialogue, and of having partners who will listen and engage with us, and vice versa. In the years that lie ahead we will need to continue to invest in and to maintain those structures that your foresight, Archbishop, established, and we hope that the dialogue will not cease to grow, with you playing a continued role.
There is something unique in the dialogue between Jews and Christians; both aided and complicated by shared language and interwoven histories. We must, therefore, be careful not to take each other for granted. And we need to treasure the fact that we grow more when in relationship than walled off from one another. For me the crux of any dialogue is reaching the point of celebrating and being comfortable with difference – perhaps even enjoying some of Bishop Krister Stendahl’s ‘Holy Envy’ – so it is imperative that we maintain our bonds, even when they are strained. Perhaps it is in these times that we grow and learn the most.
In the Torah portion we read this last Shabbat, Jacob recounts in his prayer to God how he has come from a pauper to become a Princely tribal leader. Perhaps a useful comparison to our Jewish Christian relations; a dialogue that for so many centuries was impoverished, has in just one century been transformed, though not always on a smooth path, and it continues to improve and deepen with every decade. But the work is certainly not done. Jacob prays to the Eternal before facing the enormous challenge of re-uniting with his brother Esau, telling him he is humbled by all the kindness and truth God has shown him. Likewise, Archbishop Rowan, we are humbled by the special kindness you have invested in Jewish Christian relations, and in the truths you have allowed us to share with one another. In our humility, I hope we will all embrace the need for our work to continue, to avoid it atrophying or regressing. We are better for it as individuals, and as institutions, and we are humbled, Archbishop, by your kindness and your truth, that have allowed us all to grow over the last decade, and wish you well in those endeavours you will be investing in  in the coming years.


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