If you believe, as most Americans do, that the upper reaches of the church don’t have much to do with the ground floor, the next Archbishop of Canterbury will have mostly trivial interest to you. Perhaps it will be John Sentamu, and the ECUSA is in for the deep-freeze. Perhaps it will be a conciliator or a caretaker. Perhaps it will be someone with an even more lush and vigorous patch of Muppet fur insulating his brows from the slings and arrows of church leadership. Who’s to say? But Easter will come, just as it did this year. There will be babies to baptize, teens to confirm, crappy church coffee to be drunk (maybe good sherry if you’re in the right congregation), and ministry to be done, regardless of who fills Williams’ seat.
But if you believe, as many Americans do, that it is of the utmost importance to speak with one voice on women in ministry, or the place of gays and lesbians in the church””if you believe that without a common creed and ethics and way of reading scripture, there’s no point in calling it a “church”””well then, you’re in for a very interesting six months or so. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a champion of orthodoxy like Benedict, and probably not such a fierce champion of unity-at-all-costs as Williams. You may have to face the same uncomfortable ideas that the rest of us are confronted with: that there is no single voice for Christianity, that Christ’s prayer “that they may all be one” is and always has been a fond wish and ardent desire but never a fact on the ground, that Christianity as a world movement has not produced a standard culture but has shaped and been shaped by many different cultures in many different ways, to the detriment of its coherence. But at this point, who the hell knows? You may find somebody who can bring it all back together, or (more likely), you may find another weak leader committed to togetherness in principle but unable to do much about it in practice. Either way, good luck, and definitely let us know if you find somebody with bigger eyebrows than Rowan Williams. We’ll want to be warned about that right away.