Freddy Gray

A kind man stands down

A kind man stands down
Text settings

So goodbye, Rowan. The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that he will stand down at the end of the year (leaving Britain bereft of bearded authority figures). Inevitably, people will say he failed. The Anglican Communion is at war with itself over gays and women bishops and the place of religion in a secular multi-cultural society, and he has been unable to broker any kind of peace.


But it is important to acknowledge that — even if, for all his intelligence, he often struggled to express himself clearly — Dr Williams is widely respected as a good and graceful man. I interviewed him a few years ago, and he was kind and lacking in self-importance.

He may have failed, but, when it comes to the Anglican Communion in the modern world, perhaps nobody could have succeeded — and that his kindness under pressure has shielded Lambeth Palace from many conflicts. As he said in his resignation letter, his successor will need ‘the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.’

Speculation as to who that successor will be gathers pace. In a recent edition of the Spectator, Jonathan Wynne-Jones put together a runners and riders list. Here it is again:

Richard Chartres, Bishop of London: 6/4

If archbishops were appointed on the basis of looking the part, he would be a shoo-in. With his fastidiously groomed beard and stentorian voice, he offers unrivalled gravitas for the big occasions. A friend of Prince Charles since their time at Cambridge University, he would no doubt be the establishment choice. But he views women clergy with the same fondness as an unclipped whisker, and the Church is about to make them bishops.

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York: 7/4

The Ugandan has a common touch, rare among his colleagues, that makes him popular with the media. He is principled and charismatic — the perfect antidote to Williams. He is less well-liked in the Church, however. Senior clergy use the acronym of his episcopal title, ABY, to mean Anyone But York.

Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry: 6/1

The youngest bishop in the Church is emerging as a likely successor to Rowan Williams despite, or maybe because of, the fact his profile is relatively low. Where Dr Williams’s promotion deeply divided liberals and evangelicals, Cocksworth’s experience in a city famous for being a centre of reconciliation could be just what the Church craves after years of turbulence. He has written at length about the challenges facing the modern Church.

Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford: 5/1

Blogs and tweets on everything from Liverpool FC and the Beatles to ecumenical relationships with churches in Germany. A regular on Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, he understands the media and has shown he is unafraid to take it on. Baines went to a comprehensive and spent most of his ministry in urban parishes. He is from the evangelical wing of the Church, yet liked by liberals, who regard him as inclusive towards gays.

Tom Wright, Former Bishop of Durham: 8/1

The Church of England lost one of its greatest minds when N.T. Wright returned to academia in 2010. His critics would argue that he never really left the professorial life, given he spent much of his time as bishop travelling the world to give lectures, but the evangelicals would welcome the return of a heavyweight who shares their conservative views. While widely admired by fellow bishops, he was not widely liked, being seen as a poor team player.