Archbishop Sentamu early front-runner in Church of England Spring Chase

The betting on the next leader of the Church of England has thrown up a front-runner in the archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and a large field for punters to choose from

By general agreement, the post of Archbishop of Canterbury is only matched in difficulty with that of manager of the English football team. Dr Rowan Williams had barely made official his intention to stand down, when the betting, as well as the lobbying, started.

Sky-pilot and high-flying charismatic

The front-runner John Sentamu is the candidate with a flair for the charismatic gesture, and sound-bite quote. He was imprisoned by the Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin. He has espoused many high-profile causes. He has sky-dived for charity. He also writes for the Sun (proceeds to charity). He defies simple classification into traditionalist or moderniser, with a mix of the controversial and pragmatic positions (against gay marriage; non-judgmental on cohabiting royals).

The front runners

The Telegraph had a detailed list of runners:

Dr John Sentamu has been installed by bookies as their favourite in the wake of the Archbishop of Canterbury announcing that he will step down by the end of the year. He would be the first black leader of the Church of England and would inherit an Anglican communion badly split over how to deal with homosexuality and whether women can become bishops. Dr Williams himself conceded that his own attempt to prevent schism in the Church over the issues was likely to fail.

Dr Sentamu is 11-8 [i.e. odds on favourite]. The second favourite is currently Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, but church observers believe he is highly unlikely to [succeed] as he does not ordain women into the clergy. Although he is a close friend of the Prince of Wales, and seen as a charismatic and urbane figure, his strong traditionalist stance on the issue is seen as a severe handicap.

Other senior clerics rated by bookies include: Christopher Cocksworth, the Bishop of Coventry, who is 7-2; Nick Baines, the Bishop of Bradford who is 8-1; Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, who is 9-1; and Graham Jones, the Bishop of Norwich, who is 10-1. [Sunday 18th March]

The Guardian’s betting guide

The Guardian also turned to the betting metaphor

The bookies’ favourite to succeed [Rowan Williams] is the Ugandan-born archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who said he had received the news of Williams’ resignation “with great sadness”.

The other name frequently mentioned is the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who is opposed to the ordination of women but has become increasingly quiet. Both men are older than 61-year-old Williams.

Background struggles

A similar narrative can be found in more ecumenical publications:

Tory backbenchers are demanding a traditionalist figure to replace Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, amid growing anger about gay marriage. John Sentamu, who won friends in the Tory party for his outright opposition to gay marriage, has emerged as the leading candidate for many conservatives. “I don’t want the Archbishop to say we can’t have gay marriage because it is not socially acceptable. I want him to say we can’t have it because it is wrong” Peter Bone said.

Nadine Dorries said: “I think we need someone who is prepared to stand up for Christian values that the vast majority of Christians identify with and Rowan Williams didn’t do that.”
Some church figures believe Dr Sentamu could be a problematic figure due to his heavy-handed tactics behind the scenes. Others still respect him for his opposition to Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and his inquiry into the murder of Damilola Taylor.

Saintly familiar?

No prize for seeing the connection between these signs of election power-struggles with another battle for election and power going on in The United States. At least, the process of electing a successor for Dr Williams will be far less prolonged.

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