The ferociously secretive nature of the choosing of the next archbishop of Canterbury by a few unelected members of the existing establishment means that it is not a good idea to bet on who will eventually be enthroned on the seat of Saint Thomas Becket. But, if the usual commentators are anywhere near correct it is going to be an evangelical this time.

Ruth Gledhill, like me, has a sneaking suspicion that it might be Justin Welby, currently bishop of Durham. Certainly he will one day be archbishop. He has been destined for high office since the day he was born and has held quite a few already. Although I doubt that Justin plays the class and privilege card he can't stop others in the establishment from being impressed by his background and we are still a society which defers to our "betters," especially in institutions like the Church of England. However, he has only been bishop of Durham for a year and, after the disaster of Tom Wright's incumbency, it is extremely unlikely that the movers and shakers of Durham Diocese will want to lose another leader so quickly. Also, even though he is good at many things, Justin is still learning about being a bishop and could probably do with a few more years at diocesan level before upping sticks and moving south. I think he will make a much better archbishop if he gets to spend a bit more time ministering to "real" people (of which there are plenty out there in the ex-mining villages of County Durham) and honing his pastoral skills. The problem with the current archbishop is that he has his head in the clouds of academia. We need an archbishop who is more streetwise. Justin Welby isn't that person but he could be after a few years up north.

Probably the evangelical who would cause the least harm to the wide, inclusive ethos of the Church of England is Bishop James Jones of Liverpool. But he is getting on in years now and his tenure would be relatively short. If the panel wants to put their man into place for a long time, James will not be offered the job.

Bishop Sentamu of York would be a very bad choice in my opinion, because of his personality, outspokenness and prejudices. If the panel caves into accusations of institutional racism and the uninformed preferences of non-churchgoing Sun readers, he could well end up getting the top job.

However, the frontrunner in the archepiscopal race at the moment is, without doubt, the most frightening prospect. If Christopher Cocksworth of Coventry is chosen we can kiss goodbye to any moves towards inclusivity for the next ten years at least. Cocksworth is a political evangelical whose "open" label may well be just a screen behind which is hidden a reactionary, puritanical, old school evangelical. He is a man who has shown that he will make appointments that strengthen the presence of his party within the places over which he has jurisdiction (or just influence). If he becomes archbishop of Canterbury then we will look back on the Lambeth Palace of George Carey as being a liberal utopia.

We have some excellent middle of the road, intelligent and caring diocesan and suffragan bishops in the Church of England. They should choose one of them to bring some stability to the office. But I doubt that they will. When electors are unelected they will invariably have got their position through the influence of friends and the similar minded. Having fought for the domination of the Church of England for so many years it is unlikely that the evangelical party is going to pass on the chance of controlling the most senior office in the English Church.

There is one interesting possibility on the horizon. At the end of the day the choice of archbishop of Canterbury is down to the prime minister. Cameron is very much in favour of both the state and church treating gay people without prejudice and is still insisting that his government will pass legislation allowing same gender couples to marry in England. If a person who is vehemently opposed to such inclusivity is proposed will Cameron refuse to give him the nod? It is rumoured that Thatcher turned down a liberal candidate in favour of an archbishop as reactionary as herself, so there may well be precedent.



  1. You know, last time I was riveted by the choice of Rowan Williams because I was such a fan of his writings, but after our discouraging experience with him, I find myself drawing back into my American shell saying, “Whatev'” I shouldn’t do that because I know it’s going to have a huge impact on the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, but there it is.

    • There is a good side to belonging to a completely undemocratic organisation like the Church of England – whoever they choose it won’t be my fault.

  2. I know that we Americans have from time to time caused our good MadPriest to shake his leonine head in wonder and dismay. But at moments like this I fear that I must return the favor. Having just finished a history of the Elizabethan age church politics seem even more disturbing than usual.

  3. Unfortunately, the fantasy about David Cameron choosing the second name is just that. The rule is that the first man on the list is the one that the PM takes unless that man is unwilling or somehow unable to serve. This all stems from Tony Blair refusing both names for Liverpool and telling the CNC (as it was then) to think again. Do remember that the PM’s man on the CAC is able to bring the PM’s opinion into the mix. And the fact that neither Rowan nor Sentamu is on this committee militates against a bullying response to the chair. I still think that Baines would be a good choice, but I’m resigned to Welby.

    And even if Cocksworth is chosen,the two members of the new CAC from Southwark (April Alexander and Dean Andrew Nunn) will keep him on his toes.