Who will replace Rowan Williams?

Published May 1, 2012

Top: Dr. John Sentamu (Odds: 11/8) Photo: archbishopofyork.org
Graham James (Odds: 5/2) Photo: Diocese of Norwich
Dr. Richard Chartres (Odds: 5/1) Photo: Diocese of London

Bottom: Dr. Nicholas Baines (Odds: 5/1) Photo: Diocese of Bradford
Dr. Christopher Cocksworth (Odds: 6/1) Photo: Mike Baker, Rugby Advertiser

Was the soon-to-retire Archbishop of Canterbury “too Christian” for the tough political job of spiritual head of the Anglican Communion? Archbishop Rowan Williams himself describes the job as one “of immense demands” and hopes that his successor “has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”

The optimal skill set for the post is admittedly daunting: charisma, diplomacy, leadership, intellect, strategy, eloquence, common sense, learning, theological and liturgical knowledge and PR finesse-not to mention boundless energy.

So who, then, has the right stuff to take on one of the most important roles in Christendom at a time when liberal-conservative tensions threaten to rend the gossamer fabric of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion? A reformer? A traditionalist? A middle-of-the-road caretaker until the next Lambeth Conference in 2018?

“One of the questions is whether you want an older person who can see things through to 2018, or whether you want someone young enough to take things into the 2020s after Lambeth 2018 sets the agenda,” says Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. (Church of England clergy are obliged to retire at age 70, barring special authorization by the Queen).

While Archbishop Williams does not step down until year’s end, the British bookmakers have already placed odds on the frontrunners. The odds differ by betting establishment and by day, but here, at press time, are a few of the contenders.

According to the word on the street, the odds-on favourite is the Church of England’s first black archbishop and its second-most senior clergyman. The Ugandan-born Dr. John Sentamu, 62, Archbishop of York, fled Idi Amin’s brutal regime and was appointed to his present post in 2005. A barrister and high court judge in his African homeland, Sentamu is known for his plain speech, energy and zeal for spreading the gospel.

An adept self-publicizer, he has an eye for political gestures and photo ops, at one point cutting up his clerical collar on TV and vowing not to wear it again until Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe was ousted from power.

Sentamu is a staunch conservative who has voiced objections to homosexuality and gay marriage, a current flashpoint in the Anglican Communion. Would he further polarize Anglicans and exacerbate tensions in a difficult era?

An Oxford graduate, Graham James, 61, bishop of Norwich, served as chaplain to Archbishops Robert Runcie and George Carey and is a lord spiritual who sits in the House of Lords. He is also a member of the Archbishops’ Council, acts as the church’s top media spokesperson and is chair of the BBC’s Standing Conference on Religion and Belief.

Some consider this Anglo-Catholic to be the safe and cautious insiders’ choice.

The Church of England’s third-ranked clergyman, Dr. Richard Chartres, 64, bishop of London, is a former divinity professor and chaplain to Archbishop Robert Runcie. Chartres is known for his wit, charisma and close connections to the royal family. He is founder and chairman of the Trustees of the St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, which aims to build relationships across divisions of conflict, culture and religion.

He does not ordain women but is solidly behind trees as one of Britain’s top 100 environmentalists and chair of the church’s Shrinking the Footprint campaign.

Chartres would turn 71 during the next Lambeth Conference, so an extension to his time in office would be required.

Dr. Nicholas Baines, 55, bishop of Bradford, currently comes in fourth. A linguist who once worked in British intelligence, the “blogging bishop” is also a seasoned broadcaster, regularly appearing on BBC Radio’s Pause for Thought and twice receiving commendations for religious broadcasting.

The author of six books, the outspoken Baines has criticized the BBC’s lack of a religion editor and its “lazy intellectual sidelining of religion” as a force in today’s society.

Dr. Christopher Cocksworth, 53, bishop of Coventry, was former principal of Ridley Hall in Cambridge, lending him appeal to Open Evangelicals and charismatics. He has written at least nine books and as a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission, was involved in revising the ordination services and the Common Worship Daily Prayer compilation.

Cocksworth’s experience with the Evangelical Church of Germany and the Orthodox Church in Syria would stand him in good ecumenical stead for developing relationships across denominations and countries.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

Related Posts

Skip to content