NOT wanting to be Archbishop of Canterbury has to be a
qualification for the post. I don't mean this in terms of a natural
Christian reluctance to put oneself forward. Rather, it is an
impossible appointment, and anyone who really wants to do it must
be stark raving mad.
Worse than the job of England football manager in terms of
unrealistic expectations, it is a job in which it is impossible to
succeed. Or, to be more accurate, one in which success may
constantly feel like failure.
Some may say this is Christian ministry writ large. After all,
no Christian is promised an easy ride. But most us don't have to
carry our burdens under the constant scrutiny of the press, the
all-seeing eye of the modern world.
This week, in Manchester, the Church and the media conference
gathered to think once again about this complex relationship. I was
asked to give the keynote address, and used the opportunity to have
a pop at the defensiveness of church leaders who seem to sieve what
they want to say through the fear of being got at. Too often, as a
result, they say very little and stay well below the parapet.
It thus becomes the task of church communications people to keep
the media off the bishop's back, to be blocking intermediaries, and
conduits only of the most inane and inoffensive stories. In other
words, it has become the task of many of the communications people
to keep their bishop out of the press.
And so the Church of England dies the death of a thousand
qualifications, overly fearful of saying anything big or
The Church then goes on to blame secularisation for keeping
Christianity out of the public realm, when in fact the Church is
doing a pretty good job of managing this on its own, without any
help from the National Secular Society.
At the time of writing, I have no idea who will be the next
Archbishop. But, first and foremost, before any party preferences
about theology, I hope for someone who is brave. The idea that we
might get a kindly manager, who seeks to appeal to all and none,
fills me with dread.
But being brave will always extract a heavy price on the holder
of the Archbishop's office. If he is doing his job properly, he
will be regularly vilified in The Sun, the Daily
Mail, and The Guardian - to say nothing of the Wild
West that is the internet.
Dr Williams faced all of that with genuine courage, and I
suspect few of us will really know the personal cost that it
extracted from him.
This is why no one ought to want that appointment. But whoever
gets it, I wish them the unwelcome gift of controversy. For the
only way in which that person can create no waves will be by saying
nothing. And that is so much worse.