Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has frequently felt impotent in the face of a divided and troublesome congregation. On Friday, however, he proved that he was a force to be reckoned with when he stepped into the row over whether a British Airways check-in worker could openly wear a crucifix on a necklace at work.
Speaking in Rome, where he has been seeing the pope, Williams said that consultations had begun on a possible disinvestment of British Airways (BA) shares. A few hours later, faced with the possible sale of the church's
0.25 million worth of shares in BA and the lingering possibility of a boycott, the nation's flag carrier suddenly announced a review of its 34-page uniform policy, saying that it had been "unfairly accused" of being anti-Christian.
Williams spoke with fervor, declaring that, if the airline felt the cross was a source of offence, then he himself would find that "deeply offensive."
The church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG), which advises the church's investment bodies, contacted BA shortly after Williams's comments and sent a letter to chief executive Willie Walsh requesting a meeting.
John Reynolds, the EIAG chairman, said: "I think this [shows] that the church does have a voice."
He is is pressing ahead with the meeting, which will help decide whether the Church's investment bodies will be advised to sell their shares.
Even though Reynolds cautioned that disinvestment was "the ultimate sanction," and "very rarely used," the fact that the head of church was speaking so openly about the matter appears to have forced BA to review a policy that does not allow necklaces to be worn.
Nadia Eweida will hear next month the outcome of a second appeal against the company's decision that she cannot openly wear a crucifix on a necklace at work. Eweida, aged 55, has refused to go back to her job at Heathrow Airport.
Walsh did not suggest that she would be able to wear her necklace, but said: "Our staff has suggested that we allow the wearing of religious symbols as small lapel badges. This will be considered as part of the review."
Asked at a Rome press conference if he would support a boycott, Williams noted the dispute had erupted after his own flight on BA had been booked.
"People of any faith should have the right to display the signs of their faiths in public," the archbishop said.