Who will succeed Robin Eames?
We'll know on Wednesday the identity of Robin Eames's successor as Anglican Primate of All Ireland. In my extended interview with Lord Eames on Sunday Sequence this week, he joked that he already knew his successor. True, because the Church of Ireland's tradition is to limit the field to the existing members of the House of Bishops.
Thus, there are only eleven candidates. By tradition (though there is no constitutional provision for this), the Archbishop of Dublin is apparently given first refusal. Whether John Neill will refuse is anybody's guess. He already occupies a significant office within southern society, which he may be unwilling to abandon for Armagh. He's also pretty high church (read: Anglo-Catholic), and his mitre wouldn't play terribly well in the north, where he has no experience as a priest or bishop (but, then, Eames had no experience in the south). On the other hand, Armagh opens influential doors within worldwide Anglicanism, which may tempt the archbishop north.
If the job doesn't go to John Neill, who are the likely candidates in an episcopal election? The House of Bishops is a theologically divided house, and the new archbishop would need to be a bridgebuilder. Who's the likely choice?
Bishop Ken Clarke (57), a traditionalist-evangelical, appears to be well-liked by both liberals and conservatives. He's very personable, a good age, and would probably prove popular with the laity (at least in the north). He would be a safe pair of hands (if that's what you're looking for in a primate) and is probably the most likely choice in the event of an election. This assessment, on the other hand, may have sunk his chances. If he is elected, he'll be hoping his old nickname ("Fanta Clarke") remains a secret. Oops.
Richard Clarke (57), no relation, is very bright, articulate, media-savvy, an author with things to say about the church in a changing Ireland; but he's a liberal with a voice, which will lose him some friends, and his only experience in the north was as a curate. On the other hand, he was the bishop embroiled (if reluctantly) in the heresy trial that never was, when he sought to discipline one of his clergy (Andrew Furlong) for denying the divinity of Christ. Depending on who you ask, that theological involvement could count for or against his chances.
Alan Harper (62) is also known for his liberal approach to some social and theological matters, and although he has lived in Northern Ireland for 40 years his Englishness may stand against him. He is said to be highly regarded by Archbishop Eames, and acted as media spokesman for the bishops recently when they challenged the UK government over its "oppressive" approach to controversial legislation in Northern Ireland.
Michael Jackson (50) is highly respected as an academic, with impressive Oxbridge credentials, but is probably too young (this time round) and sometimes lacks a "popular" touch. He's always been seen as a high-flyer.
Harold Miler (56) is an excellent preacher and communicator, and a dynamic pastoral leader. But he is an outspoken theological conservative, and that may frighten the horses. The Church of Ireland Gazette recently ran a front page story quoting his none-too-subtle claim that "Satan entered the last Lambeth Conference" (which some of his supporters took to be part of a "Stop Miller" campaign).
Richard Henderson (46) is bishop of a diocese with less than ten priests. He's all-Ireland chaplain to the Mothers' Union, but they don't get to vote.
Ken Good (52) is probably too young (though Eames was younger), and does not appear to have many supporters.
Michael Mayes (65) is extremely unlikely, not only because of his age, but also because of his friendly associations with Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire (Anglicanism's first openly gay bishop).
Paul Colton (46), is also highly unlikely; hyper-liberal; the bishop who officiated at the marriage of Posh and Becks might prove a little too colourful for Armagh.
Michael Burrows (44) has been a bishop for less than a year, having taken over the diocese vacated by Bishop Peter Barrett (who resigned after acknowledging an extramarital affair).
So ... who's your pick?