21/11/2012 17:00 GMT

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams Hailed At General Synod

There were flowers, hugs and two prolonged standing ovations at the General Synod today for the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Tributes to Dr Williams were led by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who spoke of his "courageous" leadership, and paid tribute to his sense of humour and commitment as spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.

Dr Williams's wife, the theologian Jane Williams, was at the farewell debate and was presented with a bouquet of flowers. Dr Williams leaves his post at the end of the year after a decade in office to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Smiles better: Dr Williams at the General Synod on Wednesday

Dr Sentamu described Dr Williams as a "friend of the weak" who had not been afraid to speak out during his tenure, especially on issues of humanity and justice.

"We will miss that reckless grace and most of all, in a cynical world, we will miss your willingness to see the good in everyone, to attribute positive motives even to those who have opposed and maligned you," he said.

Dr Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, spoke of Welsh-born Dr Williams' sense of humour and joked about their roles. "Of course, like me, by a few you have been criticised for not being true-blood English," he quipped.

"I have appreciated the solidarity this has given us as missionary archbishops in this land of hope and glory."

There were some allusions to the shock defeat yesterday of the legislation paving the way for the first women bishops.

Paying tribute on behalf of the clergy, the Venerable Christine Hardman, from the London Diocese, said: "We can't pretend that yesterday did not happen, I am acutely aware that for the vast majority of the people of the Church of England it is the last thing in the world that they would have wanted for this farewell to be taking place in this context.

"I am even more determined that nothing will hinder the tribute we pay to all that Archbishop Rowan Williams had brought to the Church of England during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury."

She added: "We give thanks from the bottom of our hearts, for your love, dedication and service as Archbishop."

Dr Philip Giddings, speaking on behalf of the laity, said Dr Williams had worked with "passion and perseverance" for unity within the Church.

He described Dr Williams as a "wonderfully approachable" man.

"Archbishop Rowan has been a distinguished servant to this Church, to the wider world, and to the Communion, he has served us, I suspect at greater cost than many of us will ever know, particularly in the most difficult of all causes at the moment, the unity of the Church," he said.

Responding, Dr Williams thanked the speakers for their tributes and spoke of the "generous affection and support" he had received over the years.

He referred to the defeat of the women bishops' legislation, highlighting the need for trust within the General Synod.

"Quite a lot of the sad and difficult stand-off in which we find ourselves as a Synod at the moment seems to come from a mutual lack of trust," he said.

In a formal debate, the Synod unanimously passed a motion that they recorded their "deep gratitude" for Dr Williams's "outstanding" ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury.