The smart money may be against him, but the Archbishop of York remains, at least in the minds of headline-writers, the favourite to succeed Rowan Williams at Canterbury next year. So it’s with some interest that I read that John Sentamu’s former spokesman, the Rev Arun Arora, has been appointed head of communications at Church House, the Church of England’s administrative headquarters.
Rev Arora, who is forty and a former solicitor, is currently leading a Christian outreach project in Wolverhampton called Pioneer Ministries. But before that he was a church press officer for almost ten years, first for the Bishop of Birmingham and then (after his ordination) for the Archbishop of York. In that position (which he called “one of the best jobs in the Church of England”) he was once described as “a determined publicity-seeker for the archbishop”. In February this year, though no longer working for Sentamu, Arora wrote a post on his ministry blog in defence of the archbishop’s decision to write for the Sun on Sunday.
He wrote that very few of Sentamu’s critics in the church “would turn down the opportunity to preach the Gospel to 6 million people” and compared them to the pharisees who had condemned Jesus for associating with sinners. And he went on to explain his approach to News International and the publicity opportunities it afforded:
As Sentamu’s former press officer it was one of my goals when I began in 2006 to make full use of the pulpit offered by both the Sun and the News of the World. From 2006 – 2009 numerous articles were placed on the precious op-ed page, often with accompanying editorials supporting the central message- usually but not always related to Easter or Christmas. Over time I established a good working relationship with Colin Myler, the then editor of the News of the World, his deputy and various people on the Sun, one of whom agreed to accompany the Archbishop in jumping out of an airplane to raise money for Paratroopers wounded in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Arora did turn down an invitation for Dr Sentamu to appear on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, saying that “We don’t do celebrity.”
Last month, Arora accused certain people within the church, and also media commentators of “besmirching” Sentamu. He wrote of “anonymous whispering” and coverage that was “in stark contrast to the way other bishops are being portrayed”. Some of this — such as the comment of an unnamed don who had allegedly described Sentamu as “brutish” — Arora attributed to “the naked racism which still bubbles under the surface in our society, and which is exposed when a black man is in line to break the chains of history.”
Greeting the news of his new appointment, Rev Arora says that the church has “a fantastic story to tell of lives and communities being transformed by people in God through faith” and promises to publicise the work of a “largely unnoticed army of men and women” in parishes up and down the country. It’s a fair bet, however, that like his predecessors Arora will spend a high proportion of his time fending off stories about splits in the church, especially over the issue of sexuality. His appointment, though, does perhaps signal that the C of E intends to be rather more pro-active in its media engagement than has sometimes been the case.
Of course, the process for appointing the Archbishop of Canterbury is in no way connected with that for choosing a director of communications for Church House. But some might see today’s news as some sort of omen.