John Sentamu Biography

Archbishop of York

Born June 10, 1949, in Kampala, Uganda; son of Rev. John (a preacher) and Ruth Walakira; married Margaret; children: Grace, Geoffrey. Religion: Anglican. Education: Makerere University, Kampala, LLB; attended Law Development Centre; Cambridge University, Selwyn College, MA, PhD.

Addresses: Office —Bishopthorpe Palace, Bishopthorpe, York YO23 2GE England.


Barrister-at-law, legal assistant to Chief Justice, Diocesan Registrar, Advocate High Court, 1971-74; assistant chaplain, Selwyn College Cambridge, 1979; assistant curate, St. Andrew Ham Common and chaplain HM, Remand Centre Latchmere House, 1979-82; assistant curate, St. Paul Herne Hill, 1982-83; priest i/c, Holy Trinity and parish priest, St. Matthias Tulse Hill, 1983-84; vicar, Holy Trinity and St. Matthias Tulse Hill, 1984-96; priest i/c, St. Saviour Brixton, honorable canon, Southwark Cathedral, 1993-96; bishop of Stepney, 1996- 2002; advisor to Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, 1997-99; chaired Damilola Taylor murder review, 2002-03; bishop of Birmingham, 2002-05; archbishop of York, 2005—.

Awards: Midlander of the Year, 2003; Freeman, City of London, 2000; honorary Doctorate, Open University; honorary Doctorate of Philosophy, University of Gloucester; honorary Doctorate of Divinity, University of Birmingham; fellowship UC, Christ Church Canterbury; fellowship, Queen Mary &

Westfield College London; FRSA; honorary Doctor of Laws, Newman College of Higher Education in the West Midlands; part of exhibit, Movers and Shakers—Faces of the Changing City, 2005.


Known as "a visionary and able teacher," according to Sue Leeman of the Washington Post, the Right Reverend John Sentamu has made quite a name for himself in the Anglican Church and the international religious community in general. He raised himself from humble roots in Africa to become the first black archbishop in Britain. The Washington Post 's Leeman wrote, "In a statement, [Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan] Williams said that Sentamu 'is someone who has always combined a passion for sharing the Gospel with a keen sense of the problems and challenges of our society, particularly where racism is concerned.'" Much was expected of the priest as he took the reins of archbishop at the end of 2005.

Born to Rev. John and Ruth Walakira on June 10, 1949, Sentamu grew up in Uganda near the capital city of Kampala. His family lived in a rather out-ofthe-way village where his father was a priest, and Sentamu himself was the sixth of 13 children. They were very poor. At his birth Sentamu weighed just four pounds and his family feared he would not survive, but with careful attention they managed to save the young child. He had a rather quiet, happy childhood, and then when he was old enough Sentamu attended Makerere University where he studied law. Upon graduation he was appointed judge in Uganda's high court. He was outspoken in his opinions against Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and was eventually thrown into jail for his outpourings against him. While in prison, Sentamu was beaten by Amin's men and almost died, but was eventually released after he regained some semblance of health. He spent several months under house arrest in 1974 before finally leaving Uganda and settling in Britain. He decided to become a priest and was ordained five years after he arrived in the United Kingdom. He attended Cambridge University where he obtained his doctorate in theology.

He became very prominent in his chosen profession and soon was a respected and sought-after priest. He continued his outspoken protests against racism, unfairness, and violence. In fact, according to Leeman in the Washington Post, "In 1997, [Sentamu] became an adviser to an inquiry into the bungled police investigation of the 1993 killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The inquiry concluded that London police were institutionally racist." Sentamu himself was a victim of racism during the trials. At one point he received a photograph of Lawrence's murdered body with the words "You are next" written underneath it in red. And that was not even the worst of what he was sent at the time. Sentamu gave the picture and other letters to the authorities, but as of 2005 no one had been charged for the crimes.

In 2002 Sentamu became the bishop of Birmingham, a position that gave him more power and a platform from which he was able to more effectively spread his messages of good will, fighting against racism and gun crime of any kind, and striving for peace. He supports women becoming bishops and has even said that he loves ordaining women, an event that many of his fellow priests think should not be allowed. He is a supporter of the Lambeth Resolution of 1998, which opposes gay priests and refuses to allow gay marriage in the church, but he dislikes the way some Anglicans discuss gay issues. He was quoted by Stephen Bates in the Guardian as having said, "Some of our disagreements are not Christian really…. It seems to suggest that all the great evils of the world are being perpetrated by gay and lesbian people, which I cannot believe to be the case. What is wrong in the world is that people are sinful and alienate themselves from God and you do not have to be gay to do that. To suggest that to be gay equals evil, I find that quite unbelievable."

Sentamu has also shown himself to be avidly against war for any reason. Before the war in Iraq began, in fact, Sentamu organized and led a public protest in Birmingham against the war to coincide with a large demonstration that took place in London; thousands of people attended. During his reign as bishop, Sentamu was behind the publication of a book delving into a century of Christian worship in his diocese. The book, Celebrating a Century of Christ—The Diocese of Birmingham 1905-2005, was written by Canon Terry Slater. It looks at issues that have existed in the church for 100 years such as whether or not women should have a leading role in the ministry, something that Sentamu said had been argued for more than those 100 years. The book was well-received. There were many other things that made Sentamu's reign as bishop stand out and made people flock to him with pride.

Even with such successes and accolades under his belt, however, racist remarks and incidents were still addressed at the priest. In 2002, he was assaulted on his way home from St. Paul's Cathedral where he had been celebrating the Queen's golden jubilee. "A young man spat on me and said 'n ∗∗∗∗∗ go back'," Sentamu told Christopher Morgan and Jasper Gerard of the Times. "He then pushed me down an escalator. I had to go to hospital. I had just finished singing hymns and he realized where I had come from."

Despite protests of this sort, in October of 2005 at St. Mary-le-Bow church in London Sentamu was confirmed as Lord Archbishop of York, Primate of England and Metropolitan. It is the second highest position in the entire Anglican Church, second only to the prestigious position of Archbishop of Canterbury, who is in charge of the well-being of the entire world-wide Anglican Church. Sentamu took office on November 30, 2005, with department store Marks & Spencer providing a picnic lunch for the attendees. Some churchgoers were upset about this fact, though, because it seemed like free advertising for the company, something that traditional churchgoers found to be appalling in a confirmation ceremony. Sentamu, however, defended the Church of England's action, saying that he did not wish his ceremony to end with a fancy lunch for only a select few, but wanted to invite all the attendees to share in the joy. In that case, the lunch would have to be something small and Sentamu was happy that Marks & Spencer had volunteered to help sponsor the event. This promotion made Sentamu the first black Archbishop of the Church of England. Archbishops are appointed by the monarch of England under recommendation by the prime minister. Upon his acceptance of the position, Sentamu was quoted by Leeman in the Washington Post as having said, "It is important that the Church of England's voice is heard locally, nationally, and internationally, standing up for justice, bringing good news to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, setting at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaiming the death of Christ and his Resurrection."

Sentamu hopes to use the additional influence of his new position to take care of all those things. The Birmingham Post wrote, "Dr. Rowan Williams, [the Archbishop of Canterbury,] who led the service with six senior bishops, said the people of his diocese would be looking to Dr. Sentamu to 'engage with the great public issues of the day.'" Williams also expected Sentamu to not only be a true leader and defender of the faith, but to help put through changes that seem necessary in today's age. He told the Birmingham Post, "All of us are committed to that but we need people whose experiencedemonstrates this can be done, that it is possible to enthuse people of all kinds from all backgrounds, ethnic communities, or ages with the vision of the Kingdom."

As he prepared to leave the post of Bishop of Birmingham, the council members of the city got together and gave Sentamu, who is an avid fan of cricket, a signed cricket bat. According to the Birmingham Evening Mail, council leader Mike Whitby said, "The whole council wanted to do this as a thank you to the Bishop who has done so much to embrace all faiths during his time here. Since his time here he has embraced all religions and done much to unite our city." Not everyone felt so positively about Sentamu, however, and not all were happy about his promotion. As soon as his appointment was announced, Sentamu began receiving hate letters, many of them using vile, racist words and covered with excrement. Ruth Gledhill of the Times discussed this with Sentamu. "Asked if he felt angry about the hate letters, he said: 'Yes, particularly when they had human excrement in them. I don't want to have those sorts of things and I say, "Why do people do this?"'" The acts of racism were condemned by politicians across the United Kingdom. Sentamu himself declared that he would not let the racist few ruin his opinion of the whole, as he had found Britain to be one of the least racist countries he had ever encountered, one of the reasons he chose to settle there in the first place. Rather than yelling about the incidents, very appropriately Sentamu said that he had been praying for the perpetrators.

Sentamu has received many awards during his career, including an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Newman College of Higher Education in the West Midlands. The City of Birmingham put on a month and a half long show in September and October of 2005 to show hundreds of portraits of people who have made significant contributions to the city to help in its regeneration; Sentamu's portrait was included in the exhibit. The exhibit was called Movers and Shakers—Faces of the Changing City. Sentamu has also been asked to contribute to numerous books. In one of them, Rejection, Resistance, and Resurrection, he used the opportunity to speak out against racism in the Church, giving a forceful and honest account about how many black Anglicans feel like they exist only on the fringes of the Church and not as a central and integral part of it. He is married and has two children.

People across the Anglican Church are looking to Sentamu to lead the church toward changes that are necessary for its survival, and Sentamu himself is optimistic. He was quoted by Ian Herbert in the Independent as having said at his confirmation ceremony, "It is imperative that the Church regains her vision and confidence in mission, developing ways to reconnect imaginatively. We needto revitalize 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." It is believed that if anyone can help lead the Church out of that trough it is Sentamu, and Anglicans around the world watch to see how the Archbishop will rise to his new position.



Debrett's People of Today, Debrett's Peerage Ltd., 2005.


Birmingham Evening Mail (England), August 26, 2005, p. 67; September 22, 2005, p. 13.

Birmingham Post, September 23, 2005, p. 2; October 4, 2005, p. 5; October 6, 2005, p. 3.

Daily Mail (London, England), October 10, 2005, p. 39; October 22, 2005, p. 19.

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), October 6, 2005, p. 2; October 25, 2005, p. 2.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), August 29, 2005; August 31, 2005; October 6, 2005, p. 3; October 22, 2005, p. 7.

Guardian, October 6, 2005, p. 9; October 10, 2005, p. 5; October 22, 2005, p. 8.

Independent (London, England), October 6, 2005, p. 20; October 22, 2005, p. 4.

Jet, July 4, 2005.

Sunday Times, October 9, 2005, p. 12; October 23, 2005, p. 3.

Times (London, England), October 8, 2005, p. 80; October 21, 2005, p. 83; October 22, 2005, p. 9.

Washington Post, June 18, 2005, p. B9.

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 6, 2005, p. 8; October 25, 2005, p. 4.


"Backlash Against War," Times, http://www.times (November 24, 2005).

Catherine Victoria Donaldson

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