Viewpoints: What should new archbishop's priorities be?


The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, is set to succeed the Most Reverend Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The new archbishop becomes head of the Anglican Communion at a time when major divisions exist over issues such as the ordination of women bishops and same-sex marriage.

Here are the opinions of some observers of the Church and people within it about what his priorities should be as he starts the job.

The Bishop of Sherborne, the Right Reverend Graham Kings

It seems to me that key priorities for the new Archbishop of Canterbury may well be to promote the growth of congregations in numbers and in depth of discipleship.

The emphasis should be on young people, young families and new ways of the Church expressing itself.

Secondly, he should expedite the process of legislation on women bishops, which will transform the face and the heart of the Church of England.

In Parliament, his priority will be to continue the critical scrutiny of the effect of legislation on Britain's poorest people.

It will also be important for him to encourage integrity and interdependence in the Anglican Communion, especially through the discussions of the Covenant - which seeks to hold the communion together organically in the face of increasing fragmentation.

This would be helped by the appointment of staff in the Anglican Communion office in London who are more representative of the provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Canon Rosie Harper, vicar of Great Missenden and chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham

The next Archbishop of Canterbury will lead an institution which is becoming increasingly separated from its roots.

Many people, especially young people, feel it is pompous and out of touch - they genuinely feel that its moral standards are lower than those of society.

At the moment the perception is that it is anti-everything and sadly, racist, sexist and homophobic. Our new leader will need to find a way of communicating a faith that is positive and life-enhancing.

This cannot be changed by speaking about it - he will need to lead the Church by acting differently on these issues, and work out how the Christian faith can be good news for the whole of our modern society.

At the local level people find Christians engaged, kind, warm and generous - the same cannot be said of the institution.

At this time of global economic turmoil he also needs to be unequivocally on the side of the poor and underprivileged both here and abroad. This will demand courage and integrity and a willingness to engage with politics in a meaningful way.

Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times

The main priority is educating people about Christ. This may seem obvious, but frankly a lot of the Church's problems are because people are theologically illiterate. The new archbishop should continue what Dr Williams was doing, which was to try to raise the intellectual level of people within the Church.

If this does not happen, I can only see more division and unhappiness - because people project on to Christianity their own emotions and feelings. The discourse on the religion has to be what Christianity is really about.

There needs to be a way to damp down the fires of disagreement, and although issues like sexuality and the place of women in the Church are hugely important, Dr Williams's time as archbishop has in some ways been dominated by the political consequences of these disagreements.

The person who takes over has to assume that there is a largely benevolent Church behind him - people who are more tolerant and more engaged with ordinary life than these arguments have suggested in the past.

Somehow in all this, the new archbishop has to be humble. If he can be humble, and hang on to that despite having a protective staff around him, then he will instinctively do the right thing.

Christina Rees, member of the general synod and the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England

The Church is at a crossroads and the new archbishop needs to focus on how it is going to meet the spiritual needs of people in this country in the next 20-25 years.

He needs as a priority to manage the sharp disagreements that exist about women bishops and same-sex marriage, because these divisions are hampering the mission of the Church.

If the general synod votes in favour of having women bishops in November, he will have to stand up to the bullies and say, we can accommodate those who disagree - but we are not going to allow them to subvert the primary legislation.

Last year there were the riots in English cities, and although they have not been repeated this year, all that frustration and anger is still bubbling. The new archbishop, as the head of the established Church, needs to be able to speak to the other people in authority, such as David Cameron and Nick Clegg, about these issues.

He should also feed into the public debate on matters like euthanasia and assisted dying, stem cell research, and abortion. We are not yesterday's religion - we are supposed to relate to the context of whatever society we are in.

He is going to have to be willing to challenge people, to challenge things that he doesn't agree with. He will not have all the answers, but he will be doing the country a great service if he asks the right questions.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society

Whoever gets the job needs to decide what the institution's policy on homosexuality is going to be.

The issue is ripping the Church apart, but more importantly it is interfering with the human rights of many people in the gay community, who have absolutely nothing to do with the Church.

Dr Williams has made the unity of the Anglican Communion a higher priority than the equal rights of gay people, with regard to marriage.

His replacement should accept that compromises on this issue are not going to work - the conservatives and the liberals within the Church are never going to agree.

It would be better to allow a dignified separation of these factions than to keep trying to bring them together, because that approach will fail and result in schism.

The new archbishop needs to be more upfront on other social issues, such as assisted dying.

As secularists, we do not believe that politics and religion should be connected, and yet the bishops in the House of Lords have the power to stymie any attempts to change the law - despite the numbers of people who obviously want the legislation to be changed.

Richard Wilson, project manager of the interfaith organisation Interact

As he starts the job, he should be thinking about how the Church can support young people from all walks of life.

In this difficult economic period, it is both young people and those from minority faith backgrounds who are suffering disproportionately.

Interfaith understanding is so important and so relevant in such a diverse and connected society, and we have seen the effects that prejudice and misunderstanding can cause in recent national and international news.

As the leader of the Church of England, it is up to the new Archbishop of Canterbury to continue to provide a safe place of welcome for diverse faith groups. He needs to work with and support those from minority communities in order to build cohesion in society, and to carry on what the Church was set up to do - to support those most in need.

I believe this will be achieved by supporting young people, enabling them to learn about the wonderful diversity of faiths and beliefs we have in Britain. This will encourage tolerance of others and help young people from all backgrounds find their own place in society.

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