Warm, inspiring, normal, encouraging: those were some of the ways that members of Fenland’s Youth District Council described Lord Rowan Williams after meeting him last month.
They were among a group of young people who took part in an informal and wide-ranging question and answer session with the former Archbishop of Canterbury at the Boathouse in Wisbech.
They quizzed Lord Williams for 45 minutes on everything from the Church’s attitude to gay rights and the state of religion in Britain to his greatest inspirations and biggest regrets.
The YDC was represented by Charlie Brenchley from Wisbech Grammar School and Christopher Howsam, Katy Griffiths and Sophie Reeves from Neale-Wade Academy in March.
Miss Brenchley said: “Meeting Lord Williams was a fantastic experience. His stories about his adventures all round the world were fascinating and he was just so casual and normal. He made it seem like anything was possible if you are really passionate about something.”
Lord Williams said it had been a lot tougher being archbishop than he had expected, saying: “I didn’t expect such an uninterrupted diet of controversy.” He had found the arguments over gay rights in the Church particularly hard and admitted that he hadn’t handled the media very well.
“Gay people have the right to all civil liberties and should be treated with total respect. I am embarrassed by the fact that in the past we have treated them with contempt,” he said.
“Different churches move at different rates and there are different cultural settings. As archbishop you have to try to keep people together and steady things. That meant everyone disapproved of me! It is a work in progress and I hope we keep moving in the right direction.”
He said he had some regrets. “But when I look back I’m not sure what I should have done differently. Getting things wrong is not the end of the world. It’s part of our humanity – you have to learn from it.”
Everyone had something important to contribute, he said. “There’s always the difference that only you can make. It may not be the biggest. But the challenge is to keep thinking about what the thing is that you can do. It takes everybody to change the world.”
Asked whether Britain was becoming less Christian, he said: “Clearly there are fewer people going to church but does that mean the same? A lot of people don’t go to church but they like the Church being there in times of difficulty.
“So I don’t panic about the future of religion in this country. There is still that connection in ways that people can’t always explain.”
He said one of his most significant achievements had been confronting Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe over human rights abuses and the persecution of the church there. “That was pretty challenging.”