It’s been a very Benedictine day here at Canterbury. The Anthem in Archbishop Justin Welby’s Enthronement Service included that wonderful phrase from the Rule of St Benedict – ‘incline the ear of your heart’. The speaker at the dinner this evening was the Abbot from the Benedictine Community from which Pope Gregory sent Augustine to Canterbury, I’ve been thinking about my friends in Holy Cross Monastery in Ireland where I go on retreat – grateful for how much they have taught me about the Benedictine way
I happened to do a Thought for the Day for BBC Northern Ireland this morning and this is what I said:
This is an important day for the Anglican Communion across the world as Archbishop Justin Welby is seated in St Augustine’s Chair in Canterbury as the 105th Archbishop. He will be the focus of the hopes and the prayers of many.
Those of us who practise the strange arts of leadership in the church – described by some as a task like herding cats – have a particularly sharp understanding of the task ahead of him. He has to help the Church of England to find an answer to its difficulties about the consecration of women bishops. He will help it to be both a pilgrim, missionary body and the historic national and established church. He will have a significant national profile as a faith leader. He will be a ‘first among equals’ leader among Anglican Primates – the leaders of the 38 Anglican Provinces – helping the Anglican Communion to be a global body which expresses communion without centralised authority.
Justin Welby has slender shoulders for such a task. But he has a big and prayerful heart – both for mission and for reconciliation across the Anglican Communion. And he also has the sort of ascerbic toughness which he needs to have to exercise leadership in difficult times.
My reflections on leadership more and more lead me back to the Rule of St Benedict – and Canterbury Cathedral was originally a Benedictine Foundation. The Rule embodies 15 centuries of distilled wisdom about living in community. I pay particular attention to what St Benedict says about the Abbott – who he says should ‘aim to be loved and not feared’. Clearly Benedict is concerned that the abbot should manage to balance truth and love. ‘Even in his corrections, let him act with prudence and not go to extremes, lest, while he aimeth to remove the rust too thoroughly, the vessel be broken.’
This world sees too much violence, too much directive use of authority, too much use of economic power to gain political advantage. The question here is whether faith communities and their leadership can embody and model for others a compassionate and listening use of authority. Not weakness or soft compliance. But an authority which is so firmly rooted in a true spirituality and holiness that it can afford to care deeply about people and relationships and about human need, suffering and the demands of justice.