The Next Archbishop must not be an Innocent!

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that the current Archbishop of Canterbury has announced his decision to step down at the end of the year and, so, the search is on for his successor.

Other people have written particularly fine “obituaries” for Rowan Williams; J John’s is one of the best I don’t feel qualified to add to them.

Suffice to say I admire him as a theologian, respect him as my penultimate boss, and love him as a brother in Christ. He also infuriated me with his academic language that could easily alienate people; I believe he lacked the common touch. One example of this is shown when he met with the comedian Frank Skinner, a Roman Catholic, in that exchange Frank came across better than ++Rowan because he knew how to communicate. You can still find the recording here: listen to the section when they are discussing sermons and let me know if you agree with me.

Why am I going down this road? Well I believe the church stands at a cross roads; we are facing so many major issues. Gay Marriage, economic recession, unemployment, pornography, the role of women, globalisation, the list goes on and you will see these issues discussed in the media when folk list the challenges faced by the next Archbishop. Most of these issues are issues for all of society; Christian and secular, with the church being pulled into addressing the secular agenda. There is, however, a Christian agenda that the next resident of Lambeth Palace needs to address; it is an agenda as old as Christianity. How does the church fulfil Christ’s final instruction to His disciples?

We need a leader who will speak out with courage, conviction and authority; as the Old Testament Prophets spoke out, as the Apostles spoke out, as Jesus spoke out. None of them held university degrees, sat in parliament or Senate or had monetary wealth. Yet they were leaders who grabbed the attention of the world they lived in.

In the thirteenth century the Roman Catholic church elected a series of Popes who history have named the lawyer popes; the first of which was Innocent III. Innocent ruled the church from 1198 – 1216 (it’s over 30 years since I studied this so apologies if my dates are wrong!) He was the most powerful man in Europe and had an intellect that was a match for any of his peers. First and foremost he was a lawyer. Innocent laid the foundation of the papal state, he established the church as a secular power and it was in his gift to appoint emperors.

At the same time that Innocent, and his successor also called Innocent, were reforming and reshaping the church there was another man at work in God’s church; his name was Francis of Assisi. A man who cared nothing for material trimmings, who understood the law laid down by God and sought no preference. Francis would wash the feet of strangers as our Lord did, he was humble in service but he was also firm in declaring a rule of life. He had no desire to satisfy or placate the secular authorities; his agenda was Christ’s not the emperor’s.

How many of you had heard of Innocent III or Innocent IV? I am guessing you all know about St Francis.

There are already groups in the church lobbying for their candidates, obviously those candidates don’t openly say they want the job but the process is in play. When the powers that be come to select the next Archbishop I pray that they do not make the mistake of selecting a new Innocent; a lawyer, an academic, when there is an unsung Francis available.

We don’t need a man with the brain the size of a planet who will take on the secular agenda. We need a person with a heart for Christ that will follow His teachings regardless of the cost.

Neither you nor I will have a say in the final outcome but we can all pray that the only lobbyist that holds sway is the Holy Spirit.