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Candidates for Cantuar : John Sentamu

What to say about the Archbishop of York? I did consider leaving him out of this series altogether, on the grounds that he is so well-known, but decided instead to write in a more interpretative way than for the other candidates.

I took a quick straw poll at the hairdresser’s this morning: everyone, whether or not they were Christian, had heard of The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, although they did not necessarily know much about him – other than that he had cut up his dog collar on television and spent the night in a tent in his cathedral. So what are the known facts?

John Sentamu was born on 10 June 1949 near Kampala in what was then the kingdom of Buganda. The sixth of thirteen children of a church primary school headmaster, he studied law at Makerere University, which educates the intellectual elite of East Africa. He is as proud of his membership of the Buffalo Clan as a Scotsman would be of his. He married his wife Margaret in 1973 and they have four adult children, two of whom are foster children.


He practised as a lawyer at the Ugandan High Court until 1974, when he fell foul of Idi Amin and spent 90 days in jail. On release, he sought refuge in Britain, where he studied theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge, obtaining a doctorate in 1984. According to Wikipedia, he was baptised at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, but then trained for the priesthood at Ridley Hall. He was ordained in 1979 and Crockford‘s crams the next 17 years into:

Chapl HM Rem Cen Latchmere Ho 79-82; C Ham St AndrS’wark 79-82; C Herne Hill St Paul 82-83; P-in-c Tulse Hill H Trin 83-84; V Upper Tulse Hill St Matthias 83-84; V Tulse Hill H Trin and St Matthias 85-96; P-in-c Brixton Hill St Sav 87-89; Hon Can S’wark Cathl 93-96;

In 1996 he was consecrated Bishop of Stepney, then served as Bishop of Birmingham from 2002 until his translation to York in 2005.


Archbishop John has (at least) the following books in print:

ROOTS AND WINGS – Report of the Black Anglican Celebration for the Decade of Evangelism by The Rev. Canon Dr John Sentamu (Paperback – 1994)

 The Money Revolution: Applying Christian Principles to Handling Your Money by John Sentamu and John Preston (Paperback – 1 Sep 2007)


The wikipedia entry says:

Sentamu is a traditionalist within the Church of England, generally supporting socially conservative moral positions, publicly criticising multiculturalism and LGBT rights.


Leap in the dark assessment

Unlike the two other candidates we have looked at so far, most people I think feel that they know Archbishop John quite well. Such is the nature of media coverage and the fame which results. Of course, we need to repeat the caveat that the picture we have of him is a two-dimensional one unless we know him personally.

A man of great charm

This short video goes some way to explain why Archbishop John is so well-liked in the country generally, by people who do not necessarily have anything to do with the Church.


A catherine wheel

Arcbishop John is a catherine wheel rocket of a man. Let me elaborate. He  rocketed from birth in a Ugandan village to the archbishopric of York in 56 years. Don’t you find that amazing? It has been said that he has been subject to racial discrimination in his career, but if that is so what would his career have been like without it? I would find it more understandable if he had initially faced difficulties on the grounds that he was not British-born, but it would seem that this has not held him back either.


Il a les défauts de ses qualités

Colin Slee and others have accused him of being a bully.  It is the obverse of being a catherine wheel. People do generally have the faults associated with their good qualities, as the French point out, and it is not surprising that someone dynamic, energetic, determined and rumbustious enough to have achieved all that the Archbishop has achieved in such a short space of time should inflict a little collateral damage along the way.


Personal parallel

John Sentamu reminds me more than anyone of my father. Like him, my father whooshed to the top (of the diplomatic service). At his best, he could hold a group of people in rapt attention as he entertained and charmed them. The more distant they were from him, the more they were taken by his brilliance and charisma. Those nearest and dearest did appreciate those qualities, but they also had to bear the brunt of a man quick to anger, who brooked no opposition and had a whim of iron.


Next Archbishop of Canterbury?

His Pied Piper qualities would stand him in good stead and  John Sentamu would undoubtedly bring people into church.. On the other hand, the clergy might be in for a rough ride and there is no indication that he sees any need to advance the role of the laity any time soon. Like Margaret Thatcher, he is less keen on consensus than conviction. A turbulent, if exciting, priest.

17 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

A good summary. I have reservations about his candidacy partly because of the reported Colin Slee incident, but also perhaps because of his traditional interpretation which in some way ties his hands when dealing with the many issues facing the church.

I’m sure that he means well and being a man of conviction, will not be easily swayed, but will also be resistant to change. And change is something the next ABC needs to be comfortable in dealing with.

I suspect that he will get on well with some in the Anglican Communion, particularly given his stance on Zimbabwe, but I’m not so sure about those western members, who might think him to be a candidate to far to the right for their taste.

If he becomes the next ABC, than I expect fireworks.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for commenting, Ernie. I suspect, as you say, that fireworks would be the order of the day!

10 August 2012 19:35
10 August 2012 18:18

I´ve watched many videos featuring the Archbishop of York…he´s not my cup runneth over…we need a river of hospitable glee (a Archbishop Desmond Tutulike comes to my mind…nothing less than fearless pure love and joy, por favor).

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Leonardo. I am trying to remain inscrutable (not something I am accustomed to) so you will have to read between the lines to decide whether I agree with you…:)

11 August 2012 04:16
10 August 2012 22:50
Savi Hensman said...

A perceptive piece. I think his attitude to multiculturalism (and to some extent LGBT rights) is more ambivalent than the wikipaedia entry might suggest. But he would probably find it difficult to switch to a more consensus-oriented approach, which could be a serious drawback for an Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Savi. How interesting that you think his attitude to multiculturalism and LGBT rights is more three-dimensional than I have indicated, following wikipaedia. At the time, I felt that a dose of Thatcherism was what the country needed, but it went on much too long. And Sentamu would not be taking on the job after a long period of consensus management, as Mrs T was.

11 August 2012 04:21
10 August 2012 23:20
Fr Andrew said...

All the reports I’ve heard of him suggests he would fail to unite in the opposite manner to Archbishop Rowan. He has been too cautious and not allowed his own convictions to show in attempt to appease. He has failed. Sentamu would bully and threaten and bluster to force his views on the Church – and divide us even more. NOT a god choice

Lay Anglicana said...

Very interesting Freudian slip, Father Andrew. You write ‘not a god choice’ instead of ‘not a good choice’. I agree with you on both counts.

11 August 2012 08:02
11 August 2012 07:51
UKViewer said...

Seeing some negative feedback on JS on twitter. In the main from Clergy, and given that they need to be in communion with their Arch Bishop, it’s seems unlikely that he will enjoy church-wide regard and respect.

I like the idea of a Desmond Tutu, but surely he is retired, but “”What a Candidate”” he would be if he were eligible.

11 August 2012 08:05
Stephen Waters said...

A very fair description of a very charismatic character and a man of great faith. Having said that I would not like to see John as Archbishop of Canturbury because I think he has a naivety that would lead him to take decisions that would be very destructive for a large part of the church. For example he writes for the Sun on the grounds that they have said sorry and have changed even though many things point to the oposite.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, Stephen, and welcome to Lay Anglicana. Of course, we don’t even know that ++John considers himself a candidate for the role – he did after all deny it hotly when first asked. We are all assuming that this was only for form’s sake – but it is possible that he does not want it. My hunch would be that he sees one of his strengths as reaching people the Church of England does not normally reach. The Sun would seem to offer an ideal channel to this section of the population and his column is justified thereby!

Savi Hensman said...

Urging people to ‘buy the Sun seven days a week’ was a serious error of judgement, especially because – addition to phone hacking – it and the News of the World have been guilty over the years of stoking prejudice of many kinds.

Lay Anglicana said...

I think you are right that it was simply an error of judgment. The thing is, it is not as if he is not bright – he is obviously highly intelligent. His political antennae may be less sensitive than an archbishop needs, perhaps?

11 August 2012 10:05
11 August 2012 09:58
11 August 2012 09:23
11 August 2012 08:31
Joyce said...

By following links in the Lay Anglicana forum I read the work by Mr Smee and wasn’t impressed.It wouldn’t of itself be sufficient to put me off anyone. All most of us see of any Archbishop is from a distance.From a distance ++ John impresses me. I rather like his reported stance actually. I have no rights in particular and I don’t see why LGBT people or anyone else should have something I haven’t got. Reading that ++ John agrees gives me the feeling of having a champion.I suspect more people feel that way than dare say so. And possibly even more don’t give a monkey’s, believing such matters should be private and none of the clergy’s business. Judged by what I read,such a view is not flavour-of-the-month so he probably doesn’t stand a chance of Cantaur even if he wants it.
As for ++John’s rise in the face of apparent handicaps : there are those here who’d say that wherever you come from, being upper-middle class or upper class is protection enough.
I didn’t like anything about Tutu : bad-mouthing his own country while abroad and criticising his hosts isn’t good behaviour by any prominent person let alone an Archbishop. Of course, that’s only an impression from a distance. It was PC among the chattering classes to like that sort of thing from that quarter at the time, but the rest of us just thought he was rude. I don’t see ++ John as resembling Tutu in any way. They’re not even from the same country.
I find it hard to believe anybody spends money on The Sun, let alone that anyone literate tells anyone else to buy it.I am,however,assured by newsagents that they do indeed sell many copies of it and that the buyers can and do read it and then pass it around.It’s brave of anybody to engage with those sorts of people.I’m not comfortable with them myself and I admire anybody with the sort of courage it must take to write for them. A man of God is expected to follow his calling, regardless of his level of comfort,of course.
My money has literally been on Tom Wright since ++ Rowan announced his resignation.I’m looking forward to reading about his ‘candidacy’. Thanks for the research you’re putting in,Madam Chairman.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Joyce. We don’t see eye to eye on Desmond Tutu, whom I do admire greatly. I think he would do the job well, but agree that he is probably not a candidate. Tom Wright is currently twelfth in line, according to the bookies. Of course, they do not know everything! My own view is that he is a popular theologian but not by nature a consensual leader, as his metaphor about only having one pair of hands on the steering wheel indicates:

Rowan’s style has been private and unstrategic. Once, questioned about strategy, he responded crossly ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit!’, seemingly oblivious to the possibility that the Spirit might work through long-term planning. Maybe that’s what we needed then. Certainly nobody doubts that he leads by example in his life of prayer and self-discipline. But we now need consultation, collaboration, and, yes, strategy. Despite routine pessimism, the Church of England isn’t finished. In a sense, it’s just getting going. We need someone with vision and energy to pick up from where Rowan’s charismatic style has led us and to develop and deepen things from there.

A new Archbishop must be allowed to lead. Yes, there are deep divisions. Part of the next Archbishop’s task will be to discern and clarify the difference between the things that really do divide and the things that people believe will do so but which need not. But, at the same time, there are problems of structure and organization that slow things down and soak up energy, problems that can and should be fixed so that the church and its leaders can be released for their mission, and to tackle properly the problems we face.

Who, after all, is running the Church of England? We have Lambeth Palace, the House of Bishops, General Synod, the Archbishops’ Council, the Anglican Communion Office, and (don’t get me started) the Church Commissioners. How does it all work? In an episcopal church, the bishops should be the leaders. Rowan hasn’t bothered much about structures, but with six hands grabbing at the steering wheel someone now needs to take charge. I wouldn’t bet on the Crown Nominations Commission proposing someone with the right combination of spirituality, wisdom and strategic thinking, plus boundless, multi-tasking energy. But that’s what I shall be praying for.

11 August 2012 14:14
11 August 2012 12:51
Kate ardern said...

Excellent summary, Laura, having met ++ John , I would agree he’s charming, highly intelligent & very dynamic and I might add, has been very loyal to ++ Rowan in marked contrast to the relationship between previous incumbents of Cantuar & Ebor. one might say that their contrasting styles have been complementary. On the flip side, ABE’s qualities could also be viewed as failings if he can’t take people with him through change. He’s certainly not frightened of saying what he thinks & whilst I strongly disagree with him on some important issues – writing for the Sun for example went down very badly on Merseyside where the paper is still boycotted over the Hilsborough reporting. I do admire the way he’s spoken out against welfare reform & the marginalization of the poor. My major concern is a certain inflexibility in his style which means he takes a firm stand on everything whether that’s the right course of action or not.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Kate, for this insight. On the face of it, the personalities of the two archbishops are as different as chalk and cheese – it is to their credit that they have managed to make the relationship work so apparently harmoniously.

11 August 2012 15:38
11 August 2012 15:26

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