Choosing a Leader: Who Will Be the Next Archbishop of Canterbury?

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Bethany Clarke / Getty Images; Press Association / AP; TAL COHEN / epa / Corbis

Left to right: Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu, the Right Rev. Justin Welby and Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London

It’s a decision that will shape the future of the worldwide Anglican community. On Sept. 28, senior figures in the Church of England were expected to conclude a two-day meeting at a secret location to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The person selected by the 16-member Crown Nominations Commission will become the spiritual leader of not only the Church of England but also the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, the global network of Anglican churches. The commission, made up of clergy and laypeople, will settle on a candidate before passing its nomination on to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Final appointment will then fall to Queen Elizabeth, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. A date for the announcement has not yet been set.

The previous Archbishop, Dr. Rowan Williams, who held the position for nearly a decade, announced in March he would be resigning to take up a position as head of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His successor will inherit the ongoing disagreements over gay rights and female bishops that roiled the church during Williams’ tenure.

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Top contenders to take his place include John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, and Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham. Here’s a look at the three men:

Born in Kampala, Uganda, Sentamu escaped Idi Amin’s dictatorship by emigrating to the U.K. in 1974 to study theology at Cambridge. As the Archbishop of York he is the Church’s number two. He is known for his theatrical style and writes a column for the Sun tabloid newspaper. He once used scissors to cut his dog collar into pieces on live television, promising not to wear it again until the autocratic President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, relinquished power. He has berated bankers for their “massive bonuses” and supports the idea of female bishops. Once a darling of the left, Sentamu fell from grace with the liberal wing of the Church by opposing gay marriage — although he does support civil partnerships.

Chartres, the Church’s third most senior clergyman, is perhaps the most conservative of the three top nominees. He has dismissed calls to hold civil-partnership ceremonies in London churches, believes gay clergy must live in “the single state” and is skeptical of proposals to appoint female bishops. Despite his traditionalist bent, Chartres, who began his church career after studying history at Cambridge, has advocated cutting the church’s carbon emissions in the name of environmental responsibility.

Justin Welby has been a bishop for less than a year. Yet the British-born Welby was the bookmakers’ favorite to be the next Archbishop in the run-up to the meeting. Critics fault him for his lack of experience in the Church, but Welby, who came to the Anglican ministry after 11 years in the oil business, has been praised for his real-world experience. Like Sentamu, he opposes gay marriage and is in favor of female bishops. He has also shown an occasional penchant for fun; in June, he revealed, for example, that his father Gavin, who emigrated to New York from London in 1929, traded bootleg whiskey during Prohibition before becoming a major liquor distributor.

As the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) chews over its options, the church has launched a Twitter hashtag (#prayforthecnc), which it has used to direct Anglicans to a specially written prayer. “Bless with the Spirit’s grace and presence the members of the Crown Nominations Committee,” it reads. Meanwhile, Twitter users have been invited to add their thoughts. Some have joined in calling for prayer, while others have offered advice. The Rev. Laurie Brock of Lexington, Ky., tweeted that “a Survivor-type contest would be a dandy way to select the new Archbishop of Canterbury.”

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