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Five overseas Anglicans will help choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury

09 July 2022


The Chair of St Augustine in Canterbury Cathedral

The Chair of St Augustine in Canterbury Cathedral

THE Anglican Communion will have a greater say in choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, after the General Synod approved a motion on Saturday to increase from one to five its representation on the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for Canterbury.

The balance of representation on the CNC has long been suggested as unreflective of the current nature of the role of the Archbishop, whose responsibilities are closely bound with those of the Communion. A background paper presented to Synod suggested the position was rooted in the colonial history of England: “The Church of England and the Communion cannot escape asking why a British cleric should always be primus inter pares” [first among equals].

Moving the motion, Dr Jamie Harris (Durham) welcomed the acceptance of others into the discernment process. Given that the average Anglican was a woman under 40, and living in sub-Saharan Africa, the Archbishop of Canterbury had “a particular concern for who she is and where she is. . . The Archbishop remains a central focus for unity,” he said. This had increased over time.

There were detractors during what was a long debate on the motion, which the chair, Canon Professor Joyce Hill, had warned Synod at the outset might be “procedurally a little bit complicated”, with issues in the several amendments not easily separated.

Canon Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) was opposed, fundamentally because “I’m not sure we’ve had a serious Communion-wide consultation. We have not gone deep into the Anglican Communion. . . The ordinary person has not had the opportunity to speak to these issues.” Was this mission creep, he asked. Did it perpetuate a form of colonialism? “Have we politicised the position?”

Other contributors felt that the change lent credibility on a global level. Dr Andrew Atherstone (Oxford), however, brought an amendment to replace the number of representatives removed with an equivalent number of members from the wider Church of England. “The Archbishop of Canterbury should be chosen by the Church of England. It is highly complicated to hand this to the Anglican Communion: it is the wrong thing to do,” he said. English Christians needed “to learn to lay down their global ambitions”.

Dr Harrison urged the Synod to resist the amendment. “We have a very deep relationship with the Anglican Communion. Primates have already said how much they support it,” he said. “The signal would be England for the English, which is not a good signal. The wider Church is listening to this debate.”

The Archbishop of York also urged Synod to resist, calling for “a reality check of where we are in the Anglican Communion”. He applauded the bravery of Canterbury diocese, who had brought the proposal. “It is about humbly inviting the world into the room,” he said. “We need a bit of humility here.”

The Archbishop of the Congo, the Most Revd Titre Andre George, reminded the Church of its historical responsibilities as a member of the Communion: “It is not a matter of Mother Church and colonial issues, but what you decide here will affect other Churches,” he said. “Don’t say, ‘We only want to serve our own interests now.’ Why take out the gospel if you don’t take responsibility for carrying it on?”

The amendment was lost.

Returning to the wider debate, Christina Baron (Bath & Wells) said the radical impression of the proposals was deceptive. “Let’s think a bit more deeply about this,” she urged. “Does the senior Bishop have to be from Kent, or could they be from Brazil or Chile? Let’s have more radical discussion about the whole principle.”

An amendment by the Revd Mae Christie (Southwark) was also lost. She wanted fuller discussions, on the grounds that “we haven’t had enough time to ask open ended questions . . . to understand the implications of electing someone who has cure of souls for our province . . . to ask questions of power and representation, and be open to their views. Otherwise we’re just window dressing. We have an opportunity to be brave and bold and take our time to conduct an open process. It might result in a younger and more diverse CNC.”

Also lost was an amendment from Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) which sought to reduce the proposed number of Communion representatives from five to three. Canon Lisa Battye (Manchester) described this as “offering crumbs to the Global Majority.”

The debate was adjourned at 11 a.m. and resumed at 3 p.m. Dr Harrison indicated his support for two further amendments: one from Nic Tall (Bath & Wells) which would add gender balance by ensuring that the five representatives included at least two men and two women, and another from Canon Andrew Cornes, (Chichester) which would require a majority of the five representatives to come from a Global Majority Heritage background.

Canon Cornes, who had worked in several provinces, said that most regions would likely choose a white person, because in many provinces the most powerful and the richest were white. “Someone with time and influence to get them elected. The Church should not be the slowest to solve the inequalities of the past: we should be at the forefront,” he said.

“Hopes would be dashed if the representatives were a reminder of the colonial past and not the vibrant present.” It must be genuinely diverse, he said, “more like the reality in our worldwide Church.”

Both amendments were carried.

The final part of the motion provided for “vacancies in the see of Dover to be considered by the CNC as if it was a diocesan see”. The end was in sight. “We are back to where we began, with Canterbury diocese’s request to us that the vacancy in the see of Dover should be covered by the full CNC process,” said Dr Harrison.

“It was formerly a quasi-CNC that in the end would rest with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Nominations, in this proposal, would go to the Queen as in any other CNC process, and the diocese has said how important this is to them.”

That was welcomed by Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities), but with reservations about anything that would result in Canterbury and Dover becoming, in effect, two diocesan bishops. Canterbury could not be attentive to every need of the diocese, he said. “Their need is to be welcomed and respected, but I regret it doesn’t lie in the discretion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, because you may get someone not of his choice.”

He hoped that the measure would, however, relieve some of the pressure on what he described as an impossible job. “We need to look after the Archbishop in future because we ask of them a huge amount. I hope it will be made a little easier.”

The Revd Rachel Webbley (Canterbury) said that the motion captured the simple request that the local diocese had a voice in choosing its own episcopal leadership. She was confident that the mature and Christian relationship between the two bishops would continue, in a diocese “open to the world”.

Archbishop Welby affirmed that there was no question of that changing, and that this would be brought out in the drafting of standing orders. “It will simply ensure the diocese of Canterbury will be inevitably and invariably fully consulted,” he said. This could be assured, given that there had not yet been “a megalomaniac Archbishop who fancied himself a Pope”. It was helpful to the See of Canterbury, he concluded, and involved no element of allocation of task. “So I happily agree to this.”

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, wanted to be “very brief and very clear. We have a diocesan Bishop of Canterbury. I am here to serve the Archbishop in my role as Bishop of Dover, and agree those responsibilities must be tested in the same way as any diocesan bishop. There is no testosterone going on here. I am here to serve the Archbishop and the diocese of Canterbury. Let’s get that clear. Thank you.”

Summing up the responses, Dr Harrison said that he detected “a little area of people feeling their way on this” — hence the importance of drafting the standing orders. The item on Dover was integral to the whole business and was “hopefully a triumphant ending we can support”. It was carried by a show of hands.

The actual wording of the requested changes to Standing Orders will come on Tuesday, with any amendments embedded.

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