Angela Tilby: the Crown Nominations Com­mission needs outside discernment

02 February 2018

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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.

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