Former Methodist President says colour should not be an issue in church appointments

A former President of the Methodist Church has spoken up indefence of the Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev Dr MichaelNazir-Ali, after the bishop voiced concerns that racism is behindcriticisms of him becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Rev Inderjit Bhogal stressed that a person's colour should notstand in the way of them taking on the most senior clericalpositions in any of Britain's Christian churches. "The Church ofEngland needs to be clear about the skills and qualities that itneeds for its leaders to guide it through the next decade."

Rev Bhogal was the first minister from black roots to take onthe Methodist Church's most senior role when he became President ofthe Methodist Conference for 2000/1. He is Director of the UrbanTheology Unit in Sheffield.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said: "If there were anequal opportunities procedure in the Church of England, then bothmen and women could apply to become Archbishop of Canterbury.Sadly, that is not the case without women bishops. But, in anotherrespect, at least those of different ethnic backgrounds, both blackand white, can apply."

Rev Bhogal noted that there are now more Anglicans worldwideoutside Britain than within these shores. "In that context, aminister from an Asian background, like myself, would bringpositive qualities to the increasingly international role that theArchbishop of Canterbury exercises."

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali has been suggested as a possible successorto Dr George Carey, who retires as Archbishop of Canterbury laterthis year. Reports that the Pakistani-born bishop is a former RomanCatholic have also raised questions about his suitability to becomeArchbishop.

But Rev Bhogal said that Dr Nazir-Ali's Roman Catholic rootsactually strengthen his claims to become archbishop, "for he wouldpossess the ecumenical perspective to help him relate better toleaders of other churches".

The Methodist Church in Britain does not endorse any oneparticular candidate for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. Lastweek, the Secretary of the Methodist Conference, Rev NigelCollinson said: "We shall hold the Church of England in our prayersin the search for Dr Carey's successor in this most demanding ofposts. The person appointed will profoundly affect the relationshipof our two churches."