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John Sentamu

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The Most Revd and Rt Hon John Sentamu
Archbishop of York
Archbishop of York John Sentamu.jpg
Sentamu in York on Easter Sunday 2007.
Province Province of York
Diocese Diocese of York
Enthroned 10 May 2005
Predecessor David Hope
Other posts Bishop of Stepney (1996–2002)
Bishop of Birmingham (2002–2005)
Ordination 1979
Consecration 1996
Personal details
Birth name John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu
Born (1949-06-10) 10 June 1949
Kampala, Uganda
Nationality Ugandan
Denomination Anglicanism
Residence Bishopthorpe Palace, North Yorkshire
Parents John and Ruth Walakira
Spouse Margaret (1973–present)
Children One daughter (Grace) and one son (Geoffrey)
Profession formerly law ( High Court advocate)
Alma mater Makerere University
Cambridge University
Ridley Hall, Cambridge

John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu (English pronunciation: /ˈsentəmuː/, Luganda pronunciation:  [sːéːntámû]; born 10 June 1949) is the 97th Archbishop of York, Metropolitan of the province of York, Primate of England and a columnist for The Sun. The position of Archbishop of York is the second most senior clerical position in the Church of England after that of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Born near Kampala in present-day Uganda, Sentamu studied law at Makerere University before gaining employment as an advocate of the Supreme Court of Uganda. Speaking out against the regime of President Idi Amin, he was briefly imprisoned before fleeing to the United Kingdom in 1974. Here, he devoted himself to Anglicanism, beginning his study of theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1976 and eventually gaining a doctorate in 1984. He studied for ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and was ordained in 1979. In 1996 he was consecrated as the Bishop of Stepney and in 2002 moved to the position of Bishop of Birmingham. In 2005 he was appointed to the position of Archbishop of York.

Sentamu is a traditionalist within the Church of England, generally supporting socially conservative moral positions, publicly criticising multiculturalism and homosexual behaviour. He has also received attention for his vocal criticism of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

Life and career

Sentamu was born in 1949 in a village near Kampala, Uganda, the sixth of 13 children. He studied law (LL.B.) at Makerere University, Kampala, and practised as an advocate of the High Court of Uganda until 1974. In 1973 he married Margaret. Three weeks after his marriage he incurred the wrath of the dictator Idi Amin and was detained for 90 days. In a speech in 2007, he described how during that time he had been "kicked around like a football and beaten terribly", saying "the temptation to give up hope of release was always present". He fled his home country to arrive as an immigrant in the United Kingdom in 1974.

Sentamu studied theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge (BA 1976, MA 1979, PhD 1984). He was baptized at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge. He trained for the priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, being ordained a priest in 1979. His doctoral thesis is entitled "Some aspects of soteriology, with particular reference to the thought of J.K. Mozley, from an African perspective". He worked as assistant chaplain at Selwyn College, as chaplain at a remand centre and as curate and vicar in a series of parish appointments before his consecration, in 1996, as Bishop of Stepney (a suffragan see in the Diocese of London). It was during this time that he served as advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Judicial Enquiry. In 2002 he chaired the Damilola Taylor review. That same year he was appointed Bishop of Birmingham where his ministry, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was praised by "Christians of all backgrounds". Sentamu became President of Youth for Christ in 2004 and President of the YMCA in April 2005.

On 17 June 2005 the prime minister's office announced Sentamu's translation to York as the 97th archbishop. He was formally elected by the chapter of York Minster on 21 July, legally confirmed as archbishop in London on 5 October, and enthroned at York Minster on 30 November 2005 (the feast of Saint Andrew), at a ceremony with African singing and dancing and contemporary music, with Sentamu himself playing African drums during the service. As Archbishop of York, Sentamu sits in the House of Lords and was admitted, as a matter of course, to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

On 7 March 2007, Sentamu was installed as the first Chancellor of York St John University. On 1 June 2007 he was appointed as the first Chancellor of the University of Cumbria. He took up the position when the university opened on 1 August 2007.

On 16 July 2007, Sentamu was presented with an honorary degree from the University of Hull by the chancellor of the university, Virginia Bottomley, at Hull City Hall during the graduation ceremony for graduands of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. On 19 July 2007 he was presented with an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters) from the University of Sheffield in recognition of his distinguished career as a scholar and theologian.

In October 2007 Sentamu was awarded the "Yorkshireman of the Year" title by the Black Sheep Brewery. In his acceptance speech he praised the welcome he had received from the people of Yorkshire and made reference to the " African-Yorkshire DNA connection", joking that perhaps his parents had this in mind when they gave him the name "Mugabi", which, spelled backwards, is "Ibagum" ("ee-by-gum", a stock phrase popularly supposed to be used to express shock or disbelief in northern England).

On 15 July 2010, Sentamu was presented with an honorary degree from the University of York by the Provost of Vanbrugh College, the Reverend David Efird of the Department of Philosophy.

On 16 July 2010, Sentamu was presented with an honorary degree from the University of Leeds by the chancellor of the university, Melvyn Bragg.

In July 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Chester.

In 2012 Sentamu contributed to the first edition of the Sun on Sunday, the sister paper of The Sun, a high-circulation tabloid newspaper for which he had previously written. All the income that he derives from journalism goes to St Leonard’s Hospice in York, of which he is president.


Sentamu has spoken on issues including young people, the family, slavery, and injustice and conflict abroad. In an early TV appearance in 1988 he joined, among others, Ray Honeyford, Ann Dummett and Lurline Champagnie to discuss "Race and the classroom" on After Dark. In November 2005 he sought re-discovery of English pride and cultural identity, stating that zeal for multiculturalism had sometimes "seemed to imply, wrongly for me, 'let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains'."

Stop and Search

In 2000, Sentamu, then Bishop of Stepney was stopped by a City of London Police officer near St Paul's Cathedral. Sentamu claimed it was the eighth time he had been questioned by police in eight years, and that he was the only Church of England bishop to have been stopped by police in this way. In a 2010 debate in the House of Lords, Sentamu was critical of the standards of "reasonable grounds to suspect" applied by police.

Middle East

Early in 2006, Sentamu featured prominently in the British press because of his comments on the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

For a week in August 2006, Sentamu camped in York Minster, foregoing food in solidarity with those affected by the Middle East conflict, especially the children and other civilians killed and injured during the 2006 Lebanon War, when cluster bombs were used by Israeli forces.

In 2006 he claimed that the BBC was frightened of criticising Islam.

"Chocolate Trinity" comments

One of Sentamu's favourite references is to "The Chocolate Trinity" of God-fearing Quaker capitalists who were involved in developing the chocolate industry:

  • George Cadbury: "More than just a sweet man"
  • Joseph Rowntree: "…an adventurer to the end of life, forever peering forward, never content with what had been achieved."
  • Joseph Storrs Fry II (J. S. Fry): "…the very model of the pre-1860 Quaker, with his plain dress a relic of the past and a reflection of his narrow conservative approach to both religion and business."


In 2006, he declined to appear in the TV show Celebrity Big Brother, saying "Celebrity can be malign in that it becomes a form of idolatry, and people live their lives vicariously through the rich and famous rather than attending to their own lives."


In a speech to the House of Lords on 19 November 2007, he opposed elements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill for seeking to remove a child’s “need for a father” in the IVF process. He said: “We are now faced with a Bill which is seeking to formalise the situation where the need for the ultimate male role model – that of the father – is removed in entirety.”

Robert Mugabe

On 9 December 2007, during a live television interview with Andrew Marr on BBC One, Sentamu made a protest against Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. Sentamu ripped off his clerical collar and cut it up stating that an Anglican, this is what I wear to identify myself that I'm a clergyman. Do you know what Mugabe has done? He's taken people's identity and literally if you don't mind, cut it to pieces. This is what he's actually done, to a lot of—and in the end there's nothing. So as far as I'm concerned from now on I'm not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe's gone.

His protest followed criticism against Mugabe at the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon.

In December 2008, Sentamu again spoke out against Robert Mugabe, saying "The time has come for Robert Mugabe to answer for his crimes against humanity, against his countrymen and women and for justice to be done".

Faith and the workplace

In a Daily Mail article in February 2009, Sentamu criticised the treatment of British Christians in the workplace in the public sector. Referring to the cases of Caroline Petrie, a visiting nurse investigated for religious approaches to patients, and Jennie Cain, a school receptionist who claimed she was disciplined for sending an email asking her friends to pray for her when her daughter was reprimanded for telling a friend she would burn in hell, Archbishop Sentamu said "Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door of their workplace is akin to asking them to remove their skin colour before coming into the office", and emphasised that "Christianity is the tapestry upon which our country's heritage was woven".

Alan Johnston kidnapping

In April and May 2007, Sentamu campaigned for the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston from his captors in Palestine. He led prayers of thanks at Bishopthorpe Palace after Mr Johnston was freed two months later and the pair met in December 2007.

Madeleine McCann

In September 2007, Sentamu wrote an article in The Sun newspaper, stating that the parents of the missing Madeleine McCann, were subject to a "whispering campaign" and were entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Kenya crisis

Sentamu met church leaders in Kenya following post-election conflict there in February 2008.

Financial crisis

In September 2008, Sentamu and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke out against opportunistic stock market trading. Sentamu compared those who practised short selling of HBOS shares, driving the share prices down, to "bank robbers".

Church schools

In a Daily Mail article in October 2008, Sentamu defended the role of church schools against what he characterised as "an attack of unusual and sustained ferocity" mounted by "a number of influential commentators" whom he did not name.


Sentamu, born in Uganda, said laws being debated in Uganda which would impose the death penalty on homosexuals and on those supporting them were "victimising". He told the BBC that the proposed law "tends to confuse all of homosexual relationships with what you call aggravated stuff and that’s the problem” but that the Anglican Communion was committed to recognising that gay people were valued by God. Previously, as Bishop of Stepney, he was one of four English bishops who refused to sign the Cambridge Accord: an attempt in 1999 to find agreement on affirming certain human rights of homosexuals, notwithstanding differences within the church on the morality of homosexual behaviour. In 2012 he stated his opposition to government plans to legalise same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom, asserting that “Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” and “We’ve seen dictators [redefine marriage] in different contexts and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time.”

Premarital sex

Commenting on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s decision to live together before their wedding, Sentamu said that the couple’s public commitment to live their lives together today would be more important than their past. He said that he had conducted wedding services for “many cohabiting couples” during his time as a vicar in south London and that “We are living at a time where some people, as my daughter used to say, want to test whether the milk is good before they buy the cow.”

He also said, “For some people that’s where their journeys are. But what is important, actually, is not to simply look at the past because they are going to be standing in the Abbey taking these wonderful vows: 'for better for worse; for richer for poorer; in sickness and in health; till death us do part.’”

Other activities

York City FC

Sentamu was a season ticket holder at York City FC during the 2007–08 season.

Public baptisms

On Easter Sunday 2008, Sentamu baptised 20 people by full immersion in a tank of water outside St Michael-le-Belfrey Church in York. Hundreds of people watched the ceremony.

Skydive for the Afghanistan Trust

On 6 June 2008, Sentamu completed a charity skydive from 12,500 feet with a member of the Red Devils parachute team. The dive took place over Langar Airfield in Nottinghamshire, with Sentamu aiming to raise £50,000 for the Afghanistan Trust. Yorkshire businessman Guy Brudenell had challenged Sentamu to do the jump at a charity dinner and Brudenell also took part in the jump on the day. In recognition of what was described as his "pluck", Sentamu was later given honorary membership of the Parachute Regimental Association.

Sentamu and Brudenell managed to raise a sum exceeding £75,000.

Hull Kingston Rovers

On 15 April 2011 Sentamu addressed the crowd at Craven Park before the Engage Super League Rugby League match between Hull Kingston Rovers and Wigan Warriors. He asked the crowd to join him in prayer extolling the virtues of teamwork and harmony in sport. Afterwards he was presented with a Hull KR shirt.


  • Mr John Sentamu (1949–1979)
  • The Revd John Sentamu (1979–1984)
  • The Revd Dr John Sentamu (1984–1993)
  • The Revd Canon Dr John Sentamu (1993–1996)
  • The Rt Revd Dr John Sentamu (1996–2005)
  • The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu (2005—present)
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