Members of a group responsible for senior Church of England appointments have begun a three-day meeting to decide who should succeed Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion.
The Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) is today continuing its secret deliberations in an effort to find a successor to Dr Williams, who announced earlier this year that he is stepping down after a decade in office.
Chaired by former Conservative Arts Minister Lord Luce, the committee, with 16 voting members, has to submit the name of a preferred candidate and a second appointable candidate as Archbishop of Canterbury to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu and the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Bradford, are among those seen as likely candidates.
Under a convention agreed since 2007, the Prime Minister commends the name preferred to the Queen for approval, with the second name used only if there is a change of circumstances which means the preferred appointment cannot go ahead.
The meeting comes amid growing speculation about who might replace Dr Williams, who leaves his post at the end of December in time to take up a new role as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in January.
No clear front-runner appears to have emerged with a number of senior figures said to be possible contenders also including the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, 65, and the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, 64.
The commission is also thought to be considering whether to appoint one of a younger generation, including the Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, who is 53, and the Rt Rev Justin Welby, 56, who was enthroned less than a year ago as Bishop of Durham.
The Archbishop of Canterbury must fulfil a number of roles including that of bishop of the Canterbury diocese and head of the Church of England as well as acting as a “focus of unity” for the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In recent years, the Anglican Communion has been split by arguments between traditionalists and liberals over gays. The appointment also comes as the Church of England General Synod stands poised to give final approval in November to the introduction of women bishops after years of tortuous negotiations.
Dr Williams has described the post of Archbishop of Canterbury as one of “immense demands” and has said his successor will need the “constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros”.
Dr Sentamu, 63, the second most senior member of the Church of England, is seen by many to be a natural choice for the post, as a charismatic clergyman who is not afraid to tackle contentious issues.
Recently, he has provoked anger, and racist abuse, with his opposition to same-sex marriage and has proved a forthright critic of social inequity.
The Liverpool-born Bishop of Bradford, 54, is nicknamed the “blogging bishop” and is adept in his use of social media, with a frequently updated and well read blog and regular tweets.
He worked for four years at the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) before leaving to train for ordination to the Anglican priesthood, and is an accomplished broadcaster.
The Bishop of London is a political heavyweight and an accomplished speaker who has close contacts with the royal family.
But if he is made Archbishop of Canterbury, the compulsory retirement age of 70 for clergy would have to be extended to allow him to preside over the 2018 Lambeth Conference.
The Old Etoninan Bishop of Durham is believed to be another strong contender in spite of having been enthroned for less than a year at Durham.
An expert on conflict resolution and peace building, he has said previously, however, that he does not have the experience or the desire for the role.
The Bishop of Liverpool has recently been praised for his dedicated role chairing the independent panel into the Hillsborough disaster.
The youngest diocesan bishop in the Church of England when he was consecrated in 2008, the Bishop of Coventry is respected by both liberals and evangelicals.