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Rowan Williams’ successor JONATHAN WYNNE-JONES


Canterbury tales N


early 10 years ago, Rowan Williams shuffled rather bashfully into a room in Church House, Westminster, to be introduced to


the world’s media as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite a visceral aversion to publicity, he has hardly been out of the spot- light since: whether trying to save the Anglican Communion from unravelling over rows about gay clergy or entering political minefields, most controversially in saying the adoption of sharia law in Britain is unavoidable. Pilloried by the Right for his social liber- alism and increasingly alienated from his natural allies on the Left because of his refusal to advance a pro-gay agenda, it is hard to think of a more isolated and embattled arch- bishop. Maybe it should come as no surprise then that, according to friends of Dr Williams, he is planning to stand down as archbishop next year to return to a life in academia. They say that he will leave after seeing the Church pass historic legislation to allow women to become bishops and taking part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in the summer. This will allow his predecessor long enough to prepare for the next Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bish- ops, and give Dr Williams himself plenty of time to renew his academic career. There are likely to be many, particularly on the evan- gelical wing, pleased to see Dr Williams head for the ivory towers, most probably at Cambridge, which is said to be preparing a professorship for him. However, it may be that once he has gone people begin to recog- nise his achievements and the lack of bishops of equal gravitas and intellect. Speculation over who might succeed him has begun, but the polls of candidates being run on Anglican websites only serves to high- light the challenge to find the right candidate. While the Church of England may still be fractured by the rows of the last decade, the bishops have rallied around Williams as a reluctant leader that they admire and cherish. That can’t be said of John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who are regarded as two of the strongest contenders, and certainly among the most ambitious. This ambition has not endeared them to colleagues. Dr Sentamu has also distressed many of the African bishops, who feel the Ugandan-born archbishop has turned his back on his moth-


8 | THE TABLET | 17 September 2011


The Archbishop of Canterbury with the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, one of ‘the strongest contenders’. Photo: Reuters


erland and become too liberal since moving to York.


Although bishops cannot openly declare an interest in the job, indeed signs of ambition are likely to count against them, some church observers wonder if the timing of their media forays is just coincidence. Sentamu’s appear- ance on BBC TV’s Question Time last month, for example, left some close to Dr Williams wondering if this marked the start of his unof- ficial campaign to enhance his credentials as the ideal successor to Williams. Then, one week after Sentamu was on the television debating the riots, an intriguing piece appeared in The Guardian, usually more asso- ciated with Dawkinsite atheism than episcopal hagiography, about the rival “candidate”, saying inter alia: “From dawn till dusk, the Diocese of London fills Richard Chartres’ exhausting schedule”. It described him as “a formidable cleric” and patron of 80 trusts and charities before adding that “confident leadership exudes from every fold of his purple cassock”. Suspicions have been raised further as


Chartres has been telling clergy that the Archbishop of Canterbury should stand down soon, according to well-placed sources. They claim he has been backing the candidacy of Sentamu, well aware that he is the same age as the Archbishop of York, and that time is fast running out on their chances as they are a year older than Dr Williams. Yet when the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the body responsible for choosing bishops and archbishops, comes to look for Dr Williams’ successor, it will recognise strong qualities in both London and York. There are few, if any, bishops more popular


Speculation has grown this week that Dr Rowan Williams would like to return to the cloistered halls of academe following next year’s Diamond Jubilee of the Queen. But to whom would he pass the chalice of Anglicanism’s most difficult job?


with the media than the Archbishop of York, who is just as comfortable in a studio or doing a skydive as dunking confirmation candidates outside York Minster. And there are none as formidable as the Bishop of London, who not only has a commanding presence at the big occasions – remember his sermon at the royal wedding –but has seen growth across his dio- cese. Yet, given their divisive personalities, it is doubtful that either of them will secure enough votes to see their nomination go forward. Given the years of infighting that have under- mined the Church of England, the CNC should be most concerned with finding someone who can unite its factions. He would also need to be strong where Williams has been weak, in realising the importance of working with the media, and having a grasp of the changing nature of British society, increasingly urban, fractured and cynical, particularly of religion. These criteria point to four bishops in par-


ticular: Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford; Mike Hill, the Bishop of Bristol; Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford; and Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich. While the first two are from an evangelical back- ground, they wear their churchmanship lightly, and are trusted by liberals. They are also both adept at using social media, having their own Twitter accounts, and such skills are set to be increasingly important in getting the Church’s message across. Graham James is another bishop who has


the rare gift of understanding and being com- fortable dealing with the media, and has spent the last two years acting as the Church’s lead on issues to do with the BBC. He is highly regarded by many within the Church. Meanwhile Stephen Cottrell also has a strong background in evangelism, having been the Bishop of Wakefield’s chaplain for evangelism, and a Springboard missioner, and is well qual- ified to lead a Church struggling to manage the falling numbers in its congregations. Whoever is finally selected to succeed Rowan Williams will be tasked with finding a way to lead the Church through future rows and yet unite it in reversing years of decline. He is likely to find that the post is as impossible as everyone has warned.


■Jonathan Wynne-Jones is the religious affairs and media correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph.


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