John Sentamu's journey to the heart of the nation's religious life was completed at 5pm yesterday when a part-legal, part-liturgical church ceremony known as the Confirmation of the Election marked the start of his reign. The ceremony, led by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and six senior bishops, took place at St Mary-Le-Bow in the City of London.
Dr Sentamu has been active in taking the Church's message into the community, counteracting secular trends that, according to one recent report, will leave Christianity a minority religion by 2040.
"It is imperative that the Church regains her vision and confidence in mission, developing ways to reconnect imaginatively," Dr Sentamu said on his appointment. "We need ... to revitalise ourselves. We need a fresh vision. This has been true of all churches throughout history, that a time comes when there is an ebb and flow and at one particular point you are in a trough."
The Church hopes that its first black archbishop in England will imbue it with evangelising zeal lacking in the conservative, white men who have gained preferment in the past. Dr Sentamu certainly has a more extraordinary range of experiences to draw on than any of the previous incumbents of a position whose history can be traced back to Paulinus AD625.
As a judge in his home country, he fell foul of the regime of Idi Amin after ignoring an order to deliver a not guilty verdict in a case involving one of Amin's cousins, and jailing him for five years. He was arrested and beaten by an Amin hit squad, and almost died. He later left for England where he studied theology and was ordained in the Anglican Church, serving in Cambridge and London.
On some issues, Dr Sentamu's views are considerably more conservative than those of his senior colleague at Canterbury. His theological hard line on the issue of homosexuality is seen as a counterweight to the more liberal stance of the Dr Williams. This may appease the African primates who take a similar line on the divisive issue.
Dr Sentamu will be enthroned at York Minister on 30 November, succeeding David Hope, now Lord Hope of Thornes, who resigned in February to take up a post as a parish priest.
Dr Sentamu's appointment comes in the wake of The Future of the Church report by the Christian Research organisation which highlights the importance of outreach Christianity groups that encourage fresh forms of expression. The report predicted that the proportion of the population describing itself as Christian will have fallen from the 72 per cent recorded in the 2001 census to about 35 per cent in 2040.
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