A year after I began my training for ordination at Westcott House, Cambridge – and reading for the Theology Tripos at Trinity College – a young man arrived at Westcott as our new Chaplain. And – shock horror – he was a layman! The Principal had appointed him because he recognised in the young Rowan Williams a profound theologian, a brilliant scholar and a man of deep faith and deep prayer. We arrogant young ordinands soon recognised all those gifts in Rowan, and many more.
Rowan was ordained Deacon in Westcott House Chapel at the end of my second year. I am proud to have been invited by him a year later to be the Deacon at his first celebration of the Eucharist in the same chapel, days after I had been ordained Deacon in Bristol Cathedral. I am also so pleased that he accepted my invitation to come to the Abbey as Archbishop of Canterbury to the great service we held in 2005 to mark our 13th centenary (not, as an eagle-eyed parishioner has noticed [thanks, Bob – no wonder you made Professor!], the service in 1998 which was the millennial celebration of the Abbey’s becoming a full Benedictine monastery in its own right. Rowan preached at that too, but was then “only” Bishop of Monmouth).
Over the years I have bought and read all of Rowan’s prodigious output of books, which continued throughout his time as ABC (as the Archbishop is always known in the trade!) and has increased in number since his “retirement” and appointment as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge (the wrong Magdalen, from my point of view: you can take a man out of Oxford and plonk him in Cambridge, but you will never take Oxford out of the man).
Now I will share a secret with you. I struggle with some of Rowan’s bigger books. It’s not so much the depth of the thinking as the need to get a half-nelson on the grammar, the over-long sentences and all the consecutive clauses. But when he wants to write simply and accessibly for ordinary people like you and me, he can do it superbly well. That is why I have no hesitation in recommending his latest book as my Lent Book for 2017. It is entitled God with us: the meaning of the cross and resurrection – then and now. Its published price is £8.99, but because I want to get you all reading it, you can buy it at the Abbey Shop in the Close for £6.95.