The next Archbishop of York
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Date: 21 June, 2005

Rt Rev Dr John Sentamu.
Photo: Jeff Jones/Diocese of Birmingham

'The Church of England seems to be well up to speed with the progressive values of western society.'


Steve Tomkins offers three cheers on the appointment of John Sentamu as the next Archbishop of York

The announcement of John Sentamu's election as Archbishop of York, which I heard on Radio 4, was a revelation to me. Apparently you say, 'SENT-a-mu' (or centre-moo, if you will), not Sen-TAR-mu.

I've read about him for years, even exchanged emails with him once or twice, hotshot friend of the celebs that I am, but without the benefit of broadcast media always pronounced his name wrong.

This is the problem with words you only see in writing. I remember, in my distant formative years, trying to figure out what a friend of mine was on about when he told about the Church of the Holy Sepulsher.

And it works the other way too. Another friend, a deputy headteacher no less, made it to the age of forty before discovering - in the kind of public blooper that keeps you awake at night - that a 'false stop' is in fact a 'full stop'. To be fair, it's spelt '.' which doesn't give you much of a clue, does it?


The Church of England is changing. We've seen, very briefly, the first openly gay bishop. We haven't seen the first woman bishop, but the principle is agreed and so it's only a matter of time and of trying to keep on board those who fear God and woman in about equal measure.

And now the first black bishop in Britain has become the first black archbishop.

The Church of England seems to be well up to speed with the progressive values of western society. I was about to say 'seems to be catching up with the progressive values...' but that would be unfair.

We - all right, I - tend to think of the church as lagging ten years behind the rest of western society, which when it comes to the role of women it probably does. But it seems we will have a black Archbishop of Canterbury long before the first black prime minister.

Not everyone will welcome these three kinds of episcopal 'progress' equally. No one whose brain has evolved beyond the level of protoplasmic goo will object to the appointment of a black bishop, but the idea that a woman's place is in the House of Bishops raises objections from those who argue that the Bible and church tradition are against it.


And even among those who accept women's ministry wholeheartedly, many oppose gay priests, saying that no one is responsible for their colour or gender (except for Michael Jackson and Nadia from Big Bother perhaps), but sex is about what you do, not who you are.

I've covered these two issues extensively (arguments for and against the ordination of gay priests and authoritatively (women bishops) on surefish before. The issue of colour is much more straightforward. The rights and wrongs are easier to judge, and the Church of England has done the former.

This is one day for feeling unequivocally good about the Church. All I have to say on this non-thorny issue is three cheers.

It's many years now since British sitcoms would be based around how funny coloured people are; even longer since the lady who now goes to my church was asked not to come back to a London church because her colour upset people. The appointment of John Sentamu (say it aloud to practice) is a happy measure of that distance.

But Britain is not yet a paradise of tolerance and respect. We have the BNP. There is racial tension in many cities, and blind ignorant goo-brained prejudice flourishes in the Home Counties too. Worries about immigration feed fear and suspicion.

In the face of all this, the appointment of John Sentamu is not just an emblem of how far we've come, but a welcome lift on the road to where we have to get to. Hip hip hooray.

Read exclusive surefish interview with John Sentamu, here.


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