Bishop James Jones is my hero. I first fell under his spell when I was reviewing his book ‘With My Whole Heart’ which, if you have not yet read, I can strongly recommend. And if you want to know why I think he would be a good Archbishop of Canterbury for the years immediately ahead, reading the review will I hope give you some idea.
But let us by all means begin at the beginning.
James Stuart Jones was born in 1948 and went to the Duke of York’s Royal Military School (his father was an army major) in Dover, followed by a degree in theology from Exeter University. He got his teaching qualification in Keele and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He then taught at Sevenoaks and worked as a producer at the Scripture Union. He did not become a priest until he was in his mid-thirties. He married Sarah Marrow in 1980, and they have three daughters.
Here is the Crockford’s entry:
+JONES, The Rt Revd James Stuart. b 48. Ex Univ BA70 PGCE71 Hull Univ Hon DD99 Lincs & Humberside Univ Hon DLitt01. Wycliffe Hall Ox 81. d 82 p 83 c 94. C Clifton Ch Ch w Em Bris 82-90; V S Croydon Em S’wark 90-94; Suff Bp Hull York 94-98; Bp Liv from 98; Bp HM Pris from 07.
Bishop James ‘s work in the church is well-covered on the diocesan webpage.
He is a member of the House of Lords, Bishop for Prisons, Visitor to St Peter’s College in the University of Oxford, Co-President of Liverpool Hope University, WWF Ambassador and a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, Vice President of the Town and Country Planning Association, Trustee National Museums Liverpool. In 2009 he was appointed by the Home Secretary to Chair the Hillsborough Independent Panel
He broadcasts regularly, especially on ‘Thought for the Day’. He has written a number of books including ‘Jesus and the Earth’ (SPCK 2003) which looks at the relationship between Christianity and the environment.
Originally a conservative Evangelical, now see below.
So far, so good. In what we have seen so far, Bishop James has not particularly demonstrated any qualities not shown by our other candidates, although I would suggest that his background in teaching, writing and broadcasting indicate that he is an excellent communicator (which would make a nice change).
However, I would suggest there is only one thing you need to know about the man in order to decide whether you could and would follow him as the leader of the Church of England (and, to the extent that the title is appropriate, the Anglican Communion). He has twice shown great moral courage in public.
The first was in the aftermath of the 2003 letter from nine bishops including James Jones to Archbishop Rowan Williams, opposing his decision not to block the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. However, Bishop James came to feel this was wrong and in 2008 he said publicly:
“I deeply regret this episode in our common life. I still believe it was unwise to try to take us to a place that evidently did not command the broad support of the Church of England but I am sorry for the way I opposed it and I am sorry too for adding to the pain and distress of Dr John and his partner.”
Stuart James, of the E Church blog, reported in 2010 the extent to which Bishop James’s new attitude had ‘riled’ the Conservative Evangelicals.
The second was a speech made by the Bishop to his diocesan synod about the Anglican Covenant. Considerable pressure, you will remember, had been exerted on all bishops to ensure that everyone was brought into line and voted in favour of the Covenant. Bishop James got to his feet, went to the microphone, and told his Liverpool flock why he could not support the Covenant. You can read what Bishop James said in this blog by ‘KiwiAnglo’, also known as Father Ron Smith, an Anglican priest in New Zealand. Ripples in a pond, reaching across the world.
So, although you may think I am verging on the melodramatic, I have no hesitation in saying that Bishop James Jones has earned the right to claim the words of this hymn by Robert Lowell as his own.
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
There are some who will question the candidacy of Bishop James Jones by reason of his age. I have no desire to speed his retirement (Bishop James is the same age as I am) but would like to point out that the most popular and loved Pope of recent times was Pope John Paul XXIII, and his papacy lasted for less than five years. In 2012 we are looking, or should be looking, I suggest, for someone to lead us out of the wilderness. The personal qualities of the next Archbishop of Canterbury are, in my opinion, of over-riding importance.