The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, will resign at the end of the year to take a post at Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge.
“It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision,” Williams said on his website.
“During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond.”
Williams was appointed as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, making him the head of the 77-million member Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
BBC reported that Williams is concerned about the deepening divisions within the church, particularly with respect to the church’s policy on homosexuality, and the ordination of gay and women bishops.
Williams generally supported gay church figures. In September 2010, he said: There's no problem about a gay person who's a bishop. It's about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe.”
However, he was not in favor of gay clergymen having partners.
Still, Williams was regarded as unusually liberal for such a senior church prelate, prior to becoming archbishop he was deeply involved in the anti-nuclear movement.
The worst aspects of the job, I think, have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won't go away, however long you struggle with them, and that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation,” Williams said in a recent interview.
But I certainly regard it as a real priority to try and keep people in relationship with each other.
Williams also came under fire in 2008 when he said that, due to Britain’s large Muslim immigrant population, some aspects of Islamic Sharia law would likely be imposed on certain parts of the country.
He defended those controversial remarks again.
I re-read quite recently the text of the lecture on Sharia law and I still stand by the argument of it, he said in an interview.
Robert Pigott, BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, wrote that church members will miss Williams
“There will be a sense of bereavement about him leaving,” he wrote.
“He has become a very revered figure. He took on an almost impossible job. Most people, even though he has enemies on both the more right-wing and liberal side of the Church, would respect the way he has dealt with the problems the Church has had.”
However, Piggott noted that the archbishop’s departure was not a surprise.
“Williams never wanted this job. He was a reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury. But he came into office feeling he was called to a job, but one there were few candidates for,” Piggott said.
“He hoped to recapture the imagination of the public for Christianity. But his 10 years in office have been hugely dogged by the disputes, especially over homosexuality.”
Regarding his next successor, Williams told UK media: I would like the successor that God would like. I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really. But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration.”
Williams also denied that Christianity is in decline in the UK.
I think there is a great deal of interest still in the Christian faith, he said.
“Although I think there is also a lot of ignorance and rather dim-witted prejudice about the visible manifestations of Christianity, which sometimes clouds the discussion. I don't think that there is somehow a single great argument that the Church is losing.
Dr John Sentamu, the Uganda-born Archbishop of York (and who is considered a potential successor to Williams), said of his friend’s resignation: “In his company I have drunk deeply from the wells of God's mercy and love and it has all been joyful. He is a real brother to me in Christ. The last decade has been a challenging time for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Thankfully, Archbishop Rowan is a remarkable and gifted leader who has strengthened the bonds of affection. Despite his courageous, tireless and holy Endeavour, he has been much maligned by people who should have known better. For my part he has been God's apostle for our time.”
In a statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Williams.
“As a man of great learning and humility, he has guided the church through times of challenge and change, the prime minister said.
He has sought to unite different communities and offer a profoundly humane sense of moral leadership that was respected by people of all faiths and none. As prime minister, I have been grateful for his support and advice and for the work he has done around the world, particularly in Africa where he has taken such a close interest in the Sudan.