The deadlock on the Crown Nominations Commission (if reports be true) re the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury is familiar territory for the church. Finding a new vicar, abbot, theological college principal, etc is always open to the possibility that two or more equally good (or bad!) candidates are presented which the appointing body cannot resolve to an agreed nomination. Sometimes one of the candidates is an imaginary person, the ideal candidate, who may be an amalgam of some brilliant predecessor along with the immediate holder of the office whom all had become used to. Against the ideal candidate, the actual candidates can seem at best equal in stature and at worst deficient. A question worth asking is whether a failure of imagination by the appointing body has led to the stalemate as much as an perception of equal worthiness.
In the case of Canterbury, is there a failure of imagination inhibiting consideration of ++Sentamu? A failure, for instance, to understand how responsibly he would take up this more senior office? Or, to take +Welby, a failure to imagine how quickly this able man would grow into the office?
A further possibility is a failure of imagination concerning what the office should become. To take a different scenario, appointing a new vicar. Parishes can be very comfortable about the way they have become. The previous much appreciated vicar led congregational life to a point of happy contentment. Naturally a new vicar is looked for who will maintain the contentment. But might that be a recipe for stagnation? Should imagination at this point lead to a vision of a different kind of vicar, one who will lead the parish into new, growing life. Perhaps the demography of the parish has developed in the direction of young families. A young candidate is dismissed for want of experience. But perhaps precisely such a candidate is the best appointee for the next period because able to connect with the changed demography and thus able to lead congregational life into new growth.
Back to Canterbury: a question worth asking is whether the new ABC can lead a national church mission? Naturally questions are being asked about the candidates' ability to speak in public without making gaffes, to offer a theological line which is inclusive of opposing dictums (especially over women bishops and gay partnerships), and generally to look like a worthy member of the English establishment. Is the question being asked about the candidates' ability to lead the church in its mission in the 21st century?