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
I've covered these two issues extensively (arguments
for and against the ordination of gay priests and authoritatively
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
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
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.