"You have wasted your saliva"

The Times of London's Ruth Gledhill is ecstatic at the appointment of John Sentamu, the Uganda-born Bishop of Birmingham, as the next Archbishop of York:

So the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church of England after all. No other conclusion can be drawn from the inspired appointment of Dr John Sentamu to be Archbishop of York.

The last few years have been witness to an inexorable decline in both the strength and reputation of the Anglican church in the West, a decline hastened by shameful squabbles over sexuality. It has seemed that nothing could lift the church out of the quagmire of internal dispute.

But through this one appointment, the Church already has a whole new feel. A new direction seems possible, and a recovered sense of mission.

Gledhill speaks for many, and certainly for religion writers who have seen Sentamu in action. I've seen him on two occasions: at a mid-decade review of Anglicans' progress on the Decade of Evangelism (1995), while he was still a priest, and at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, after he had become a bishop.

At the former, Sentamu poked fun at the Church of England's stuffiness and played exhilarating music with a small rock band from Uganda. At the latter, he rebuked another bishop, who was moderating a plenary session, for shutting down an African bishop's remarks in mid-sentence. (The bishop's allotted time had run out.)

As a few different profiles make clear, Sentamu speaks his mind sharply.

From Alex Kirby of BBC News:

During his six years as bishop of Stepney in east London he was stopped and searched eight times by the police.

What upset him most was the sudden change in the officers' behaviour when they realised his identity.

He said: "When they discovered who I was, the way I was then treated was very different. They should treat everybody with respect, with dignity."

Another time, he recalls, four young white men spat at him and said: "Nigger, go back."

He replied: "You have wasted your saliva."

From Vicar Robbie Low of the conservative New Directions magazine, introducing a Q&A in 1996:

John Sentamu and I first met twenty years ago in the Rank Room of Wesley Hall, Cambridge. He was in his final year at Ridley and I had just started at Westcott. The "induction" course of co-counselling and psycho-babble was in its second day. The pair of social inadequates contracted as "enablers" were already well into the kind of brainwashing and manipulative techniques that only twelve months previously I had been investigating and exposing in major cults, and I was beginning to wonder if this could possibly be the church of God.

"Take a partner and sit staring into each other's eyes. Now stop pretending you like each other and acknowledge the deep anger and hatred you feel for each other" etc, etc.

. . . Suddenly from the other side of the hall came a loud and outraged African voice:

"How dare you tell me I hate my brother . . . lies . . . dishonesty . . . manipulation etc."

Sentamu hit them all round the boundary. During the awkward silence that followed I crossed the hall, shook his hand, introduced myself and said I was glad there was at least one other sane man in the building.

We left the room together as the dominant partner in the enabling team wrestled with the ultimate liberal nightmare . . . how to tell an angry black man that he is wrong.

"We're glad you felt you could share that with us. . . ." So was I.

And from Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda comes clear rejoicing that the Church of England's hierarchy has made an important appointment that honors the testimony of Global South Anglicans:

We are jubilant at the news of our fellow countryman's appointment as the next Archbishop of York, and are grateful to the Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Church of England for recognizing the emerging force of the Christian Church in the Global South.

John Sentamu, a fellow Ugandan, was originally a judge in the High Court of Uganda. In 1974 when he refused to bow to pressure to deliver a 'not guilty' verdict to one of Idi Amin's cousins, he was forced to go into exile. Like the Biblical Patriarch Joseph, what was meant for evil, God has now used for good.

One thing is certain: This Archbishop of York will not be boring.

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