Dr George Carey has announced his intention to retire later this year after eleven years as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr Carey brought a fresh approach to the office: he was the first Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times who had not been educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, and his evangelical convictions and working-class roots both challenged the then dominant middle class, liberal and "high church" tendencies in the leadership of the Church of England. However, it was soon obvious that Dr Carey was no match to his predecessors; he had not the diplomacy of Robert Runcie, nor the gravitas that gave Michael Ramsey statesman-like qualities.
It was no fault of his that during Dr Carey's tenure relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church deteriorated so badly - there were compensations in growing and more intimate links with other churches world-wide, particularly the Lutherans, although the credit for these advances must go to others. But if Dr Carey could not control dialogue with other churches, the divisions within his own church needed firmer and wiser guidance.
The divisions that remain in the Church of England long after the decision to ordain women have been exacerbated by the appointment of "flying bishops" and stand in sharp contrast with the peaceful changes and their wide acceptance in the Church of Ireland.
Dr Carey's announcement yesterday will lead inevitably to discussion about the process of selecting a successor, and speculation about potential successors. But is this not an opportune moment to change the method of appointing bishops and archbishops in the Church of England? Many believe Dr Carey owes his position to Margaret Thatcher's determination to keep out the more radical and socially-minded David Shepppard. But why should the state be involved in selecting the leader of a church which represents a minority of the people? And why should Downing Street have the final say in naming the leader of 70 million Christians in the world-wide Anglican Communion when the members of the Church of England are a tiny minority?
Perhaps the time has come for an Archbishop of Canterbury who represents and embodies that global Anglican community. Among promising prospective candidates who are not English-born is the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan and is an expert in dialogue with the Muslim world. Perhaps the most gifted candidate from outside the Church of England is the present Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams.An archbishop from the Muslim world or the Celtic fringe could do the Church of England a world of good.