INTERNATIONAL aid agency Christian Aid announced on Friday the appointment of retired bishop John Sentamu (pictured) as its new chairman – the first person of African descent to take up the position.
Uganda-born Sentamu, a lifelong campaigner against racial injustice, stepped down last year as archbishop of York, the second-highest cleric in the Church of England.
His appointment comes as Christian Aid contends with cuts to the UK foreign aid budget affecting development work in some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Sentamu, 72, said in a statement it was a ‘great surprise and a delight’ to be invited to the post and become the first chairman of African origin in the charity’s 75-year history.
Born in Kampala, Sentamu fled Idi Amin’s regime and became Britain’s first senior black bishop in 2002, shaking up the church by embracing overtly political causes and embracing his cultural roots.
He symbolically took off his clerical collar and cut it up on live television in 2007, vowing not to wear it again until Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe left power.
He returned 10 years later and put it back on when Mugabe stepped down.
‘To chair the Christian Aid Board, which is deeply committed to eradicating injustice, disadvantage, increasing mutual accountability and its prophetic voice in addressing issues of poverty and power, is a great honour,’ Sentamu said.
‘Pray for me,’ he added.
Sentamu first worked with Christian Aid in 1980 when he went door to door to raise money for the charity.
He visited Afghanistan with the international agency in 2004 where he said its work ‘blew his mind.’
He will formally take up the position in November against a backdrop of deeply controversial cuts to Britain’s foreign aid budget amounting to $7bn.
Christian Aid has called cuts ‘reckless’ and warned of a long-term negative impact on development work.
The charity announced in July it had been forced to terminate its church-led peace work in South Sudan because of a resulting lack of funding.
Sentamu replaces former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, under whom he served as archbishop of York, at the charity.
Williams said it had been ‘a profound privilege’ to chair Christian Aid.
‘The next few years will mean we must stand even more firmly for the dignity, equality and justice of all… in light of cuts to aid and increasing national self-interest,’ he added.
Christian Aid’s chief executive Amanda Khozi Mukwashi said Sentamu brought with him ‘understanding that will be able to speak into the crises of climate change, Covid, conflict and debt that are affecting the world’s poorest communities.’