Does anyone want to be Archbishop of Canterbury?

To the casual observer it may sound like a dream job.
You get to call yourself the spiritual leader of almost 80 million souls around the world, you become the heir to such towering figures as St Augustine and Thomas Becket, and you have the chance to crown monarchs and marry princes as well as presiding over General Synod and sitting in the House of Lords.
If all that power and responsibility gets too much you can repair to one of two historic palaces where you and your family stay rent-free, ask your chauffeur to take you for a spin, or spend some of your £72,990 salary.
Should a contemplative mood descend upon you, you could go on retreat or write a book. But if you were feeling more mischievous, you could give an interview or deliver a speech that outrages everyone from the Pope to the Prime Minister (not to mention the editor of the Daily Mail).
So why is it that so few contenders are throwing their hats in the ring to become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury?
Of course it is not like most normal jobs and hopefuls neither send off their CVs nor get put through a series of gruelling assessments (more’s the pity).
But front-runners to succeed Rowan are not just coyly denying any interest in the post – they are actively saying it is an impossible one.
First to make this claim was Nick Baines (currently at 7/1 to move into Lambeth Palace, according to William Hill’s odds), who declared on his blog last September: “You’d have to be out of your mind to want to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
“My guess is that whoever is asked to do it next will have to be dragged to the seat.”
Shortly after Rowan announced his departure this month – confirming Jonathan Wynne-Jones’s great scoop of some six months earlier – Graham James said: “I have served as a chaplain to an Archbishop of Canterbury and it was an impossible job then, and I think it’s more impossible now. Only those who don’t recognise its difficulties could possibly want to do it.”
Despite this, odds on the Bishop of Norwich to take the poisoned chalice shortened from 10/1 to become the second favourite at 9/4. As far as I can tell, his backers seem to have jumped to the wrong conclusion after seeing him at a Lambeth Palace reception for journalists in January, perhaps not realising he acts as the Church’s spokesman on media matters.
The bookies’ favourite (2/1) remains John Sentamu but he told me during our tour of Jamaica earlier this year: “Everybody who has gone to York, there is not a single Archbishop who has not loved it. Those who have gone from York to Canterbury have always wondered, ‘what was this all about?’
“Because unfortunately the job in Lambeth pushes the person in a hundred directions. I’m always happy where I am.”
It was obvious he had given the position some consideration. But still he went on: “Canterbury is not an easy job because you’ve got a big province and then his primacy in terms of the Communion — first among equals – every province organises itself. The people who’ve suggested he ought to do more, I’m sorry – Canterbury isn’t a Pope.”
So does anyone want the job – or have any hope that they could do it successfully?
Many of the end-of-term reports on Rowan’s reign concluded that despite all the problems he encountered, perhaps nobody could have played such a difficult hand any better.
Rowan himself said his successor would need the “skin of a rhinoceros”, but regardless of the fact that I’ve never met a bishop who wasn’t very sensitive to criticism, I don’t think it would help anyway.
The pressure on the next holder of the post can only increase, as the liberal wing and society call for faster changes that will lead to the consecration of women bishops and openly gay ones.
He will also have to handle the fallout from the failure of the Anglican Covenant, which looks likely to see the resurgence of the Gafcon conservatives, and somehow work out how to pay for the 2018 Lambeth Conference and make sure it isn’t boycotted by one faction or another.
And in England at least he will likely be powerless to intervene as the Government introduces gay civil marriage, cuts the number of bishops in the Lords and most likely following those moves starts thinking about disestablishment.
With all those pressures and expectations, might it be less cruel to share the job between two people? To make it a more of ceremonial role, or a rotating annual presidency?
Or just to give up on the idea of Canterbury having any sort of oversight role in the Communion, then making him more like a southern Archbishop of York rather than Primate of All England?
If anyone complains and demands strong leadership, they could be simply pointed in the direction of Rome.
Of course it would mean departing from centuries of tradition and history, but that’s what’s happening in the Church anyway.
At the moment, Anglicanism is such a broad church with so many competing demands on its most senior figure — not to mention a complete absence of any idea of what success would look like – it just seems to be setting him up to fail.

One Response to Does anyone want to be Archbishop of Canterbury?

  1. avatar

    Philip Panter

    31/03/2012 at 15:57


    And this is a leading article from a Christian paper with an evangelical tradition ! Either we, as a people, will be given a leader who will bring us back to our Christian , Catholic and Biblical roots, or our Nation will lose its soul.
    As Yeats once wrote…” Twisting and turning in the widening gere, the falcon does not hear the Falconer. Things fall aèpart, the centre will not hold….”

    Yours faithfully,

    Philip J.C. Panter

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