Dr Rowan Williams stands tall in the Church
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones
It was a little after half past ten when the Archbishop of Canterbury shuffled up the steps of the pulpit in York Minster to address the hushed congregation.
After six years in the post, this could well become a defining moment for Dr Rowan Williams - the time when the real Archbishop appeared before his Church.
He has been weighed down by the crises that have engulfed the Anglican communion virtually ever since his arrival at Lambeth - pulled this way and that by the warring factions in the battles over homosexuality and women bishops.
Today, however, he grew in stature as the sermon went on, emerging by the end of it as the leader that the Anglican communion so desperately needs - compassionate yet direct and vulnerable yet firm.
Referring to the story of Joseph being thrown down into a waterless pit and left for dead by his brothers, the archbishop attempted to reach out to all those, in and outside the Church, who feel deserted.
In a sermon charged with emotion and feeling, but delivered with poise and unflinching stoicism, he set out his inclusive, all embracing vision for the Church.
"What would Jesus do is a good question to ask," he said. "Where would Jesus be is just as good.
"Who would Jesus be with? He is going to be with those who feel the waterlessness of their position.
"With those traditionalists feeling the Church is falling away from them.
"He will be with those in a very different part of the landscape who feel that things are closing in, that their position is under threat, that their liberties are being taken away by those anxious and eager to enforce their ideologies in the name of Christ."
There has been much grandstanding and posturing, talk of defection and challenges to the archbishop's leadership, but in a couple of sentences he rose above all of that.
He was reassuring the traditionalists opposed to women bishops that they would not be isolated and offering his support to those who feel threatened by fundamentalism on both sides of the different debates.
But he went further: "He will be with the gay clergy who wonder what their future is in a Church so anxious and tormented about this issue."
It is a shame that extending support to homosexuals in the Church should be a bold move, but it was and the Minster's congregation knew that; particularly considering that conservative Anglicans have just formed a rival church in response to the liberal attitude of the Western churches on the issue.
However, Dr Williams is not going to be cowed anymore into trying to appease everyone. That was what came across from his sermon.
He has done his best to keep everyone within the Anglican fold since he was made Archbishop, but now he is going to say what he thinks. And what he feels.
The Church shouldn't be just about issues, but about people, he seemed to say.
In what many read as a poignant tribute to his best man, a journalist who recently committed suicide, he made this case powerfully.
"He [Jesus] will be with those people in the press gallery who are trying to keep their minds on their business while dealing with any number of complex personal issues, who may be afflicted by private anxieties, grief, and losses that will never be noticed by those who take them for granted as they go about their business."
By the end of his sermon many of the congregation were close to tears. Others were celebrating that the archbishop seemed like a man transformed.
Yesterday, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, rallied to the defence of his friend and colleague, saying that the "ungracious" attacks by conservative Anglicans on Dr Williams had "grieved" him deeply.
He was offering him a hand to climb out of the "waterless pit" that his Anglican "brothers" have put him in.
Today, the Church saw a leader, who seemed freed and who is now standing tall.