While we are waiting for the Crown Nominations Commission to decide whom to nominate for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, I thought it might be interesting to see what we can discover about the candidates from freely available cyber resources.
I am not taking bets on the likely outcome, but thought the most even-handed way to do this would be in the order that their names currently appear on the Oddschecker list. We will work our way sporadically through this list until an announcement is made. Today The Right Reverend the Lord Bishops appear in the following order: Christopher Cocksworth, Graham James, John Sentamu, Justin Welby, Tim Stevens, Richard Chartres, John Packer, Stephen Croft, Nick Baines and John Inge (enough to be going on with I think).
Of course we need to bear in mind a comment made on the Twurch of England website last September when the idea of a successor to Archbishop Rowan was mooted: ‘But here’s a thought, do the people on the Crown Appointments Commission ask God about His thoughts? He usually has some interesting things to say, and He’s God’.
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Let us begin, therefore, with Bishop Christopher John Cocksworth.
The current Bishop of Coventry, appointed in 2008, he is the youngest serving diocesan bishop in the Church of England. His wife, Charlotte, is the daughter of the Rt Revd David Pytches, former Bishop of Chile, Bolivia and Peru, and they have five sons.
There are three strands to Bishop Christopher’s professional life: as priest, theologian/writer, and academic.
He studied theology at Manchester University, where he obtained a first and later a PhD. He then trained for the priesthood at St John’s College, Nottingham, served as a curate in Epsom, became Chaplain to Royal Holloway College and later Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In 2009 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity, Honoris Causa, of the University of London.
Bishop Christopher’s page on Amazon lists twelve theological books currently in print (no mean feat in itself!). He has written about being a priest, about Common Worship (he was a member of the Liturgical Commission), Evangelical eucharistic thought (he is described as an ‘open evangelical‘) and prayer.
So far, so not very revealing.
The website of Coventry diocese, however, depicts a bustling and motivated group of people setting about their tasks under the direction of their bishop. The cynical might suggest that this is explained by a very effective public relations machine. But not only is this inherently unlikely (sorry, Church of England), no public relations expert could have come up with this splendid document, allotted its own tab on the front page of the website. Of course, this is probably not written by the bishop himself (‘there are no great men, my child, only great committees‘) but, as bishop, I think he is entitled to claim at least the credit for it being official policy.
I have only found one personal interview which puts any flesh on the official record of Crockford’s Clerical Directory and Wikipedia. That is by John Bingham, published on 22 May 2012 in The Telegraph. In it Bishop Christopher talks movingly of the inspiration he takes from Coventry Cathedral, and the leitmotiv running through it of ‘Father, forgive’.
In discussing the conflicting pressures within the Church, he is reported as saying ‘What is attractive about the Church of England is that we don’t try to cover up our differences, but we do try to work through them‘.
He adds, on the subject of Afghanistan – and this is where I would part company with him -
It would be difficult for anyone to deny that it would be better if this were over…how it is brought to a conclusion is not for me to say, but the intention of all peace-loving people must be to seek the earliest conclusion to conflict.
My problem with this statement is that Britain and her allies did not go into Afghanistan to engage in conflict (with the Afghans) but to attempt to keep the peace and strengthen the governmental security forces to the point that they would be able to keep their own peace in future. Unless he was misquoted (always possible) this suggests some naïveté on the bishop’s part.
I am not clear what Bishop Christopher’s position as an ‘open evangelical’ actually means in terms of his attitude to the consecration of women as bishops, or towards the treatment of the LGBT community. On the episcopal issue, he voted to ‘adjourn debate to enable reconsideration of amendment 5.1.c’, a position generally taken by those in favour of women bishops. However, he also voted in favour of the Anglican Covenant, as did his diocese. The Wikipedia article says he ‘is one of 11 Church of England bishops to have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, but has not been a vocal opponent, arguing only that the Church has deep wisdom to share on the subject’.
But he seems an engaging personality. I liked his parable of vegetable gardening to illustrate his aims for Coventry Deaneries:
In other words, I want us to see whether we can shape and structure Deaneries for the furtherance of local communities of faith. After a 25 year lapse I’ve taken up vegetable gardening again. I’m loving it. I’ve enjoyed working the soil and I’ve enjoyed sowing the seed and I’ve loved seeing life emerge from the energy of the soil and seed.But I’ve discovered that I cannot tend the whole plot well. If I stand in the middle, or stand at the edge, or stand in any one part of it, I can’t reach it all. Next year, I want to divide it into sections with paths in between, so that each section can be worked and weeded, sown, planted and harvested without treading on the precious earth and damaging the precious growth. That’s a bit of an attempt to picture the sort of shift I’m encouraging.
And he has an attractive speaking voice:
Leap in the dark assessment?
A safe pair of hands.
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The photograph of the Archbishop’s seat at Canterbury Cathedral by Adam Bishop was downloaded from Wikimedia under CCL