Dr Rowan Williams lecture : ‘The Challenge of Affluence’

Visit of Dr Rowan Williams to St Anne’s Church Kew, 12 July 2019


On 12 July 2019, St Anne’s Church was full to hear Dr Rowan Williams lecture on ‘The Challenge of Affluence: lessons for a parish from the life of Conrad Noel’.

The Reverend Conrad Noel (1869-1942) was born on 12 July 1869 in Royal Cottage, Kew Green. Dr Williams began by explaining how the problem of poverty prior to World War I vexed many people, particularly in the Church. Conrad Noel, who had been ordained (not without difficulty) in the 1890s and found it difficult to get a job as a curate, was a committed socialist. However, his particular brand of socialism was bound up intimately with his approach to liturgy, his understanding of the creed and his commitment to what Dr Williams called ‘a kind of localism’.

He became vicar of the very beautiful Thaxted Church in north east Essex in 1911 and proceeded to institute changes that reflected his understanding of Christian socialism. For Conrad Noel,

‘liturgy was a worked example of redeemed community… it was a form of politics’.

This was because it showed how human beings could do something together, something beautiful, something orderly, that expressed their solidarity.

His understanding of the Trinity led him to an absolute belief in difference in equality –

difference is not fatal or threatening or competitive. Difference is not winners and losers

Dr Williams, with his trade-mark gentle courtesy, then used these points to challenge us with a number of fundamental questions about our liturgy and to what extent it speaks of an alternative way of being human together from the one that is all around us. Do we discover, with a sense of delight, something about our humanity that transforms how we usually carry on? Our Christianity should enable us to think of a political world, nationally and locally, oriented not towards the exercise of power, but the giving of power - the setting free of every human individual to be both giver and creator.

Dr Williams concluded his lecture as follows:

All I wanted to do this evening is introduce you a bit to a quite extraordinary figure… Someone worth remembering, worth celebrating, someone who travelled a fair way from the house across the road, but who travelled with a consistency, a courage and above all a level of joyful flair,


Claudine McCreadie, St Anne’s Kew.


All blockquotes are direct quotations from Dr Williams lecture.