NEXT week, the General Synod will debate a theological report on the workings of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) (News, 26 January).
The origins of the CNC go back 40 years, to when the Prime Minister’s office agreed that the Church should nominate its own bishops. The Prime Minister retained discretion on which of two names was forwarded to the Queen, but this changed in 2008, when Gordon Brown chose to opt out.
The authors of the report are aware of recent criticisms of the CNC. I was in Oxford diocese when the CNC failed to agree on any candidate (News, 22 May 2015). Rumours were rife over what had gone wrong. The diocese waited for more than a year for the process to be re-run. Then there were the sees where Jeffrey John was a candidate: Southwark, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, Exeter, and Sodor & Man. Suspicions ran that he was the preferred candidate for these appointments, but that his nomination had been mysteriously blocked. And then there was Sheffield. . .
There is a concern that CNC appointments are too mired in church conflict. Appointees come with agendas, having already decided whom to back. There is a suspicion that some might actively subvert honest discussion by appearing to agree a name and then voting against. The theologians urge a more honest approach, including a ban on secret voting.
But there is one problem that the report does not address. Until 2008, the part played by the Prime Minister made CNC members starkly aware that the Church was not accountable only to itself: it is, after all, the Church of England. England should have a voice. The Holy Spirit works beyond the Church as well as within it, but the Church is now effectively closed off from any discernment from outside. All that the authors recommend is a closer involvement with the Prime Minister’s office when York becomes vacant, but this is only to bring it into line with Canterbury.
The real problem with the CNC is that it operates under a narrowed-down and centralised senior appointments system. The days are gone when the PM’s Appointments Secretary could seek out for informal conversation those priests who might not be on an obvious churchy career track, but who just might have the vision to contribute something of real value to Church and nation. Now there are Church-set hoops to get through, buzz words to be spoken, and CVs to be checked out before the process even begins. The whole system has become introspective, and the result is a tendency to bland appointments of safe candidates who are already marked for “promotion”.
Years ago, when the old system was in place, I remember when someone suggested, aghast, that a Muslim Prime Minister might one day have a say in the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Good idea, I thought.