If accurately quoted, it was almost certainly said with a wry smile. But, even as a joke, there is something deeply disturbing about the recently resigned Archbishop of Canterbury’s comment in Wales at the Hay Festival on Tuesday.

Commenting on his resignation as Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams is reported at WalesOnLine to have said,

It is quite nice to have a bit more time to say my prayers and turn into a Christian again and to catch up with a bit of sleep.


Even taken half-seriously, it is an outrageous admission that the demands of being the temporal leader of a spiritual organization are so great that there is no “time to say my prayers.” It is horrifying to think that a leader in the church should have to step aside from the rigours of his office in order to “turn into a Christian again.”

What is the church for if its top leaders are not able to make space for prayer and spiritual discipline?

Why should we be surprised if there is a spiritual malaise in the church if the people who are in positions of leadership within the church community are not setting aside real time for prayer and spiritual practice?

If the function of leadership in the church is simply to keep the machinery of the institution turning over, we need not be bothered that leaders are unable to carve out to nurture their spiritual life. If church leaders are merely mid-level bureaucrats, then it is safe to relegate their spirituality to the sidelines, an extra little hobby that some will indulge and others ignore.

But, if the church is fundamentally a spiritual body whose primary function is to nurture and support people in living in relationship to the invisible Mystery and Beauty we call God, then the situation to which the Archbishop of Canterbury alludes is a catastrophe of epic proportions.

How can a spiritual leader fulfill the function of spiritual leadership if that leader does not have time to pray regularly and every day “turn into a Christian again,” in deeper and more fulfilling ways?

Even Jesus apparently found that it was necessary to pray.

after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone (Matthew 14:23)

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. (Mark 6:46)

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12)

In fact, for Jesus, the more the demands of ministry pressed in upon him, the more he found it was necessary to leave those demands behind and be alone in prayer.

now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.withdraw to deserted places and pray. (Luke 5:16)

In order for leaders to nourish their communities, those leaders must first be living in such a way that their personal spiritual lives can thrive. Church communities must demand that their leaders view nurturing their own spiritual lives as their first priority. The church needs leaders who model openness and responsiveness to the presence of God. This may mean that some of the mechanics of church life do not get quite as much attention as they have in the past. But, becoming overwhelmed by the mechanics of church life does not seem to have produced spiritually vibrant communities only spiritually exhausted leaders. And spiritually exhausted leaders are unlikely to be able to support the renewal of the spiritual life of the church.

Is the church content to be nothing more than another centre of entertainment and busy work? Or, does the church long to be the one place on earth where people find themselves called to let go of the preoccupations of their lives and open to the divine mystery and wonder at the heart of all life?