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African evangelical chosen as next Archbishop of York

African evangelical chosen as next Archbishop of York


John Sentamu was appointed the Church of England’s first black archbishop last month. The Ugandan-born Sentamu, 56 – currently Bishop of Birmingham – will become Archbishop of York, Primate of England and Metropolitan, second-ranking bishop in the Church of England and overseer of the 14 dioceses.

Speaking after the announcement, the archbishop-designate, in keeping with his evangelical roots, vowed to re-energise the Church of England and convert the population to Christ. “It is imperative that the Church regains her vision and confidence in mission, developing ways that will enable the Church of England to reconnect imaginatively with England,” he said.{{more}}

As the 98th Archbishop of York paused to pray before the high altar of the mighty medieval minster, he may have reflected that his journey through the Anglican hierarchy has been more extraordinary than that of any of those who have gone before him.

Born in Uganda, the sixth of 12 children, he trained as a lawyer and was a high-court judge in his 20s before falling out with – and being beaten up by – the regime of Idi Amin over his refusal to acquit one of the president’s cousins of a crime. He was more fortunate than many, including the then archbishop of Uganda, Janani Luwum, who was murdered, apparently causing Sentamu to vow: “You kill my friend, I take his place.” He escaped to England in 1974, read theology at Cambridge, and was ordained five years later.

He had been scarcely mentioned as a possibility for York, but his progress through the ranks of the Church of England has been rapid, from chaplain at a remand centre, a curacy and then parishes in south London, Bishop of Stepney in 1996 and translation to Birmingham in 2002.

He is not the first bishop from an ethnic minority in the Church of England, but the first to have risen so far, so fast. Along the way he experienced being stopped and searched by the police eight times in six years – “enough of that lip if you want things to turn out OK for you” in the words of one officer who had not noticed his clerical collar – and served as an adviser to the inquiry into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence and chairman of the official review following the Damilola Taylor murder. In Birmingham he led a campaign to root out the black gun gangs responsible for the shootings of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare in 2003.

He fulfils the relatively recent tradition of having an evangelical in charge of York to complement a High Church Anglican at Canterbury and vice-versa and meets the stipulation of the York diocese that they wanted a theologically conservative figure.

In the context of an Anglican communion bitterly divided over homosexuality, his appointment to balance the more liberal Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams may temporarily mollify African primates. The new archbishop takes a conservative, orthodox stance on homosexuality and last week called on the fractious church not to split.

Married with two grown-up children, he follows David Hope, who announced his early retirement last year in order to return to being a parish priest.(Weekly Guardian)