Archbishop of Canterbury

There was some moderately cheering news this week for the members of the Crown Nominations Commission who are charged with coming up with a preferred name of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, in succession to Rowan Williams.

According to a Cpanel poll of 569 churchgoing Christians aged 18 and over in the UK, conducted online by ComRes for Premier Christian Radio between 26 June and 11 July 2012, the post is still seen as highly relevant from a variety of perspectives.

94% of all Christians (and 98% of Anglicans) said that the Archbishop of Canterbury was relevant to the Church of England, 92% (96%) to the Anglican Communion, 85% (94%) to Christians in the UK, and 71% (79%) to wider UK society.

Nevertheless, one-quarter of Christians felt that the post was no longer relevant to UK society, and this was particularly the view of men, those aged under 45, and members of Independent and New Churches.

Presented with a list of twenty-four possible characteristics and beliefs for a new Archbishop, the six cited as most important by all Christians (figures for Anglicans alone in parentheses) were:

  • Desire to stand up for the beliefs and values of Christians – 90% (96%)
  • Support for family values – 81% (77%)
  • Ability to communicate with normal people – 77% (83%)
  • Well-versed in biblical knowledge – 76% (89%)
  • Willingness to speak his mind – 69% (79%)
  • Support for same-sex marriage – 68% (62%)

The six attributes which came bottom of the list were:

  • Support for gay marriage – 4% (5%)
  • Liberal interpretation of the Bible – 6% (6%)
  • English nationality – 8% (6%)
  • Desire to increase overseas development aid spending – 16% (22%)
  • Opposition to the ordination of female bishops – 17% (7%)
  • Support for the ordination of female bishops – 23% (34%)

Of the twelve characteristics ranked of middling importance by all Christians, Anglicans were especially more likely than average to attach weight to:

  • Ability to cut through Church bureaucracy – 56% (67%)
  • Respected – 56% (66%)
  • Ability to unite the Church of England – 44% (56%)
  • Ability to unite the Anglican world Communion – 32% (50%)

Twelve potential candidates for the next Archbishop of Canterbury were offered to respondents. Combining first, second and third choices, John Sentamu (current Archbishop of York) headed the rankings for all Christians, at 51%, well ahead of Tom Wright (former Bishop of Durham and now at the University of St Andrews) on 27%. James Jones (Bishop of Liverpool) was in third place (19%) and Richard Chartres (Bishop of London) in fourth (17%).

Anglicans were less likely (28%) than all Christians (41%) to express no preferences at all. They also voted more strongly than the norm for Sentamu (56%), Wright (37%), and Jones (28%).

Some have expressed concerns about Sentamu’s candidature on the grounds of his age (he is 63), and it is interesting to note that he was much less popular among Christians under 35 years (40%). However, he was favoured by those Christians wanting to see an Archbishop with a traditional interpretation of the Bible (63%).

The full data tables from this poll, extending to 52 pages, are freely available at:


British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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