Belfast Telegraph

Can the new doctor bring order to a divided family?

Whether in Armagh or Canterbury the schism in Anglicanism over same-sex marriage will not easily be healed, says Alf McCreary

The appointment of Dr Justin Selby as Archbishop-elect of Canterbury may prove to be a breath of fresh air for the Anglican Church in England and worldwide - and for the leadership of the Protestant churches in general.

This former oil executive and man of the world came across in his first national media interviews as charming, self-confident and not afraid to state his views clearly.

He said that he approved of women bishops, but not same-sex marriages, and that he believed in the Virgin birth and the physical resurrection of the body.

These are topics which tied previous archbishops and bishops in knots and left them searching for ever-more obscure theological language to appease some of their followers, instead of giving a straight answer, which is what the public is looking for nowadays.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is a world-class theologian, who is good on a one to one interview basis, as I found out at Lambeth Palace.

Unfortunately, his public statements are so carefully layered that the great mass of people have little idea what he is talking about. The Archbishop-elect has major problems to face. The deep schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion over same-sex relationships will not be easily healed.

However he has the advantage already of telling people where exactly he stands on this controversial topic, but he has also emphasised his strong desire to lead an inclusive church.

He is equally clear on the ordination of women bishops, which has divided his Church.

Dr Selby supports this measure and he may even ordain the first woman bishop himself. His business background is also an advantage. He knows about the world outside the churches and he will talk plainly to those of his flock who are more concerned with settling internal quarrels than in reaching out with the good news to those in need. Dr Selby also has the important ability to get things done. A former business colleague says that he can come out of a meeting having gained what he wants, but without having made enemies.

Anyone like Dr Selby, who has the confidence to be himself and to put the interests of the people as a priority, is bound to gain converts - particularly if he continues to talk in plain language in an era when the mass media is so influential.

Much media attention has been given to Canterbury, but it also important to remember that only a few weeks ago the Church of Ireland elected its own new Primate and Archbishop-elect of Armagh.

The Rt Rev Dr Richard Clarke will take over in mid-December, following the recent retirement of Dr Alan Harper. The new man in Armagh will inherit some of the same problems as his colleague in Canterbury, including the vexed question of same-sex marriages. Richard Clarke has had an impressive career in the Church of Ireland, including an early period as a curate in Holywood, Co Down during the Troubles.

He is articulate and able and, while he is a good team player as part of the House of Bishops, he has a mind of his own.

In his first press conference in Belfast shortly after his appointment, he was tactful and balanced in his comments, but the did not dodge the difficult questions.

Significantly, he showed an ability to speak out plainly on major issues in a way that ordinary people can understand.

Like Dr Selby at Canterbury, he will have to prove himself in high office, but the Church at large has historically been able to re-energise itself at the right time through good new leaders.

It is highly likely that the Anglican Church in Ireland and England and the Anglican Communion worldwide could be in for some interesting developments as these two new leaders take up their posts in the near future.

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