Queen Anne’s Dead

Chris Ambidge drew my attention to an article in the Sunday Telegraph by Jonathan Wynne-Jones saying that Rowan Williams was planning to resign next year in order to take up an academic post.

My first reaction was “Oh, Queen Anne’s dead.” (what you say in the UK when someone relates old news to you). Last year Rowan publicly stated that he would not serve until 70, and the current trend is for most bishops, except for those who love the office more than life itself, to retire around the age of 65.

The line about stepping down nearly 10 years early makes the assumption that bishops serve, unless they die or get very ill, until the age of 70 without exception. This is wrong and Wynne-Jones is being needlessly detailed about it. Bp. Tom Butler and Bp. Richard Harries retired on their respective 70th birthdays (as bishops of Southwark and Oxford, respectively) but they are the exceptions rather than the rules.

The machinations behind this are probably all speculation or on deep background. In my opinion, Richard Chartres has been a pretty ineffectual bishop of London and is in his mid-60’s, so he’s not in the frame as any eventual successor. I could just barely believe that he’s been urging Rowan to resign early. However, as Rowan’s already said he wouldn’t serve until 70, he’s pushing on an open door. Besides, Rowan’s natural place (and, it might be argued, the place in which he should have stayed) is in the groves of academe, and in order to make an impact in an academic institution, he’d have to get a post at least 8 years before he’d have to retire from that position, and that would be next year.

As for successors, Archbishop of York John Sentamu is a year older than Rowan, and has been a great lover of the publicity stunt, but his temperament is not what one would want in an Archbishop of Canterbury.

One thing that Wynne-Jones got right is that the tenure of an ABC revolves wholly around the Lambeth Conference. In recent times only Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher stayed around for two Lambeths (he had to be told by his secretary in 1961 that the time had come for him to make a graceful, if tardy, exit). Every Archbishop since has been appointed long enough before a Lambeth Conference to do effective planning, and resigned at a time before the next one that would allow his successor to do the same.

So Ramsey from 61-74, Coggan 74-80, Runcie 80-91, Carey 91-2002 all “surrounded” a Lambeth Conference, if you will.

Thus, if Williams resigns in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, his successor will be enthroned in 2013 and that will give him a 5-year run to the next Lambeth Conference in 2018.

My only comment on an eventual successor is that I believed that if Rowan stayed on until he was 65 (in 2015), Bp. Nick Baines, late of Croydon and now of Bradford, would be the natural successor. If Rowan does retire in 2012, the timing is wrong for that. My only hope would be that if Rowan resigned next year and Sentamu got it, Nick might just be able to squeeze into York and wait for Sentamu to resign in 2019.

The rest of the Bench of Bishops is a bunch of lesser men, and no one stands out as a natural successor except Baines, in my view. Sentamu would be the beneficiary of Buggin’s Turn, but neither Runcie nor Carey nor Williams were Abp. of York before Canterbury, so the natural succession of Diocese/Abp of York/Abp of Canterbury has been broken for decades.

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