Friday, November 09, 2012

White Smoke

My friend Hadge wrote some lines from a popular song in a card he gave me on the occasion of my ordination in 1984:

Don't crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains.

Has Howard Jones ever been so helpful, before or since?

With a great element of no-really we will, unless we have been wonderfully and brilliantly duped (wouldn't that be great ? Surprise it's Chartres) learn later today that Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, has been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was certainly on the list of candidates but speculation peaked this week when a sudden rush of money at the bookmakers suggested that someone knew he had been offered the job. From then on the white smoke started to curl gently out of the cracks in the chimney.

Far be it for me, at the bottom of the Church of England food chain, to suggest that it is unlikely it was church officials who were running into Bet365 to put a grand on Welby. But I will. Those who work in and for the church are, as far as I can tell, by and large honest and upright. No. It must, I'm sure, have been the point at which the Prime Minister's office was asked to agree the appointment that the leak took place.

Welby was ordained in 1992 and was in Coventry Diocese for a curacy in Nuneaton (and by the way I'd tip another former curate of that parish for a high profile job before too long), an incumbency in Southam and a key job at the cathedral. He was spoken of well at that time and had an appalling family tragedy when a child died.

Much is made of him being a former oil executive but what does anybody know of executive matters in their twenties? Twenty years on anyone with an ounce of common sense will admit they knew nothing then. Much is made of him being Old Etonian. It is worrying, as one Twitter commentator said yesterday, that our Prime Minister, Mayor of London, Future King and Archbishop all went to the same school. 'Bring back the meritocracy' was the comment.

So Welby was hastened from Coventry Cathedral to being Dean of Liverpool, Bishop of Durham and now (apparently) Archbishop of Canterbury. Good luck and prayers to him.

What does he need?

Well, given that the end of The World at One's closing headlines yesterday described him as '...a former oil executive who is against gay marriage' (56 years of life summarised at the whim of an editor) he will need a good communications team. The world will want to summarise him. As a wordsmith Rowan Williams spoke cogently but in sentences too long for headlines. So he got summarised by editors, rarely helpfully. Welby needs to provide his own summaries. Longer scripts can be made available but in 2012 public figures need, sadly, to speak in soundbites. Someone needs to write them.

He also needs wise heads around him. The Bishop of Bath and Wells yesterday told a group of clergy he thought Welby needed a Bishop at Lambeth - someone to take a lot of the day to day routine bishop stuff off him. Wise idea. Welby will be a spiritual leader but also a chief executive of the church of God plc. He will probably never meet ordinary people in an ordinary way again. Churches tidy up when the Bish is coming and dust his seat; if the Archbish is coming they paint. So a bunch of wise heads in the Lambeth West Wing - he needs his Josh, Sam, Toby and CJ - are essential.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, he needs to pick some fights. Rowan nuanced and juxtaposed well but you can't reconcile black with white without becoming grey, hot with cold short of living a tepid life. Once the church's values have been double-checked we need to live with them and to those who are unable to tick the boxes there will be one short letter in response to their complaints. 'We'll miss you.' Those churches that are growing need to be watched and learned from. Those that are growing into museums need curators not curates.

I say this as one who may not be able to sign up to the values thus agreed and may find myself one of the ones being missed. I somehow doubt it but if that is the process I can't make myself the exception or the one for whom it is written.

Good luck Justin. You'll need it.

Don't crack up
Bend your brain
See both sides
Throw off your mental chains (ooo ooo ooo).

Born on the Feast of the Epiphany. We'll be praying for your appearance to bring gifts and wisdom.

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