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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 14:46 GMT
High hopes for new archbishop
By Robert Pigott
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent

The Archbishop of York - the Right Reverend John Sentamu Picture: Chris Young/PA
Dr Sentamu has the second highest post in the Church of England
The Church of England has celebrated the appointment of its first black archbishop with a feast of sound and colour at York Minster to inaugurate John Sentamu as Archbishop of York.

What is expected of Ugandan-born Dr Sentamu now he is the Church's second in command?

Never before has an archbishop approached his new cathedral with a fanfare to match John Sentamu's - a boat up the River Ouse to the beat of African drums, a walk through the medieval streets of York to the Minster and a service including a Ugandan dance of rejoicing.

No enthronement has echoed to drums and lilting African songs and then ended with the release of doves and balloons.

A secular age has produced a drift away from the Church, both from its pews, and its moral message
Robert Pigott

But never before has the Church of England had a black archbishop, let alone one born in Uganda before exile in Britain and a meteoric rise through the ecclesiastical ranks. Nor, perhaps, one on whom so many hopes have been pinned.

The new archbishop has himself acknowledged the church is in a 'trough'.

Even the commission that chose him acknowledged that it was looking for a man who could reconnect the Church of England with England.

A secular age has produced a drift away from the Church, both from its pews, and its moral message.

It has become badly divided, especially in the wider Communion over how far it should adapt its values to chime with contemporary life.

Dr John Sentamu and Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Sentamu and Dr Williams will work as partners, says the Church

John Sentamu appears to be a fresh face for the Church's efforts to find new ways of presenting the Christian message.

Born one of 13 children in Uganda, he became a judge and alienated the regime of Idi Amin with his quiet resistance.

The Church seems to hope that his smiling, larger-than-life approach will appeal to young people conspicuously absent from services, the thriving black churches and to those wanting new ways of seeking the spiritual elements of life.

His charismatic approach to worship is balanced, however, by his support for traditional church teachings. He is in favour of women bishops but believes sexual relations should be restricted to heterosexual marriage.

The new archbishop is designed to appeal to most of the Church as a unifier.

He has cited the efforts of Queen Elizabeth I to make the Church of England a spiritual home for all her subjects.

He himself is insisting on the awkward term archbishop for York rather than archbishop of York.

Dr Sentamu is exuberant, engaging, and ready to speak out publicly, especially on matters of social justice
Dr Sentamu was not widely tipped for his new post.

Had there been an election among bishops he might not have been chosen.

Some even whispered suspicions that he was the prime minister's choice but there has been no public complaint about his selection... more a sense perhaps that the Church has embarked on an imaginative, even bold course and a lot hangs on the outcome.

The appointments commission said another telling thing. Dr Sentamu is to work 'in partnership' with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Dr Williams may be the undisputed leader of the Church but Dr Sentamu will, they seem to be saying, be something more than a mere deputy.

Indeed they have all the appearance of a deliberate double act. Dr Williams is a learned theologian with an academic style.

He can seem reserved, even shy. Dr Sentamu is exuberant, engaging, and ready to speak out publicly, especially on matters of social justice.

He denounced the war in Iraq and demonstrated against it. He criticised racism in the police after being stopped and searched eight times during six years as a bishop in London.

He said of the Church itself that it was socially glued together by a monochrome - white - culture.

Dr Williams said on his appointment as archbishop of Canterbury that he wanted to recapture the imagination of the public for Christianity. Dr Sentamu's arrival in York is a sign of the continuing efforts to do so.

Eight archbishops of York have moved on to become archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation, some of them relatively recently. Dr Sentamu may yet have even more history to make.


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