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General Synod digest: Global votes for choosing next Archbishop of Canterbury

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, contributes to the debate on the motion, which included a proposal for “vacancies in the see of Dover to be considered by the CNC as if it was a diocesan see”

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, contributes to the debate on the motion, which included a proposal for “vacancies in the see of D...

CNC for Canterbury

THE General Synod voted on Saturday to reduce the number of members elected by the diocese of Canterbury to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury, and to increase representation from the Anglican Communion from one member to five.

The balance of representation on the CNC has long been suggested as unreflective of the current nature of the office of Archbishop of Canterbury, whose responsibilities are closely bound with those of the Communion. A background paper presented to the Synod suggested the 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 Harrison (Durham) welcomed the acceptance of others into the discernment process. Given that the average Anglican was a woman under 40, 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.

The motion had its detractors during a long debate, which, the chair, Professor Joyce Hill, had warned at the outset, might be “procedurally a little bit complicated”, with issues in the several amendments not easily separated. The actual wording of the requested changes to Standing Orders came on Tuesday, including amendments.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesThe Archbishop of Canterbury

Some, like Luke Appleton (Exeter), felt that the proposals lent credibility on a global level. 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?”

The Revd 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.”

Canon Rachel Mann (Manchester) found the proposals “a work of humility” — something echoed by the Archbishop of York, who also urged Synod to resist the amendment, calling for “a reality check of where we are in the Anglican Communion”. He applauded the bravery of Canterbury diocese, which 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, Dr Titre Ande Georges, 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.

The motion to reduce the number of representatives from Canterbury was carried in a vote by Houses: Bishops: 27 nem. con., with one recorded abstention; Clergy: 129-30, with ten recorded abstentions; Laity: 118-49, with 11 recorded abstentions.

The debate continued on the proposal to increase to five the number of Anglican Communion representatives. Christina Baron (Bath & Wells) said that 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.”

The Revd Dr Thomas Woolford (Blackburn) urged the Synod to vote against a motion that, he argued, would make the Archbishop of Canterbury different from other Primates.

An amendment from the Revd Mae Christie (Southwark) was also lost in a vote by Houses. 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 by a vote of Houses was an amendment from Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) 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”.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesCanon Anderson Jeremiah (Universities and TEIs)

After an adjournment, Dr Harrison indicated his support for two further amendments: one from Nicholas Tall (Bath & Wells), to ensure that the five representatives included at least two men and two women, and another from Canon Andrew Cornes (Chichester), to require a majority of the five representatives to come from a global-majority-heritage background.

Moving his amendment, Mr Tall reminded the Synod that, since the Canterbury CNC last met, in 2012, there had been a whole change to the appointment. “The next one will be the first time a woman could be considered for Archbishop of Canterbury,” he said. “We are all, male and female, created in the image of God, and this needs to be reflected in the Church of England’s gift to the Communion.”

Luke Appleton (Exeter) had reservations because of the possible situation in which there was no minimum of two suitable people. “There is no need to prescribe in this way,” he said.

Canon Anderson Jeremiah (Universities and TEIs) would have welcomed a fresh look at the representation on the CNC generally. He said: “Don’t lose sight of the suggestion of wider consultation on the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and what this Church of England can learn from the Anglican Communion.”

Fiona MacMillan (London) observed that, in aiming for balance: “Unless you require something, it doesn’t happen.”

The amendment was carried on a show of hands.

Moving his amendment, Canon Cornes, who had worked in several Provinces, said that most regions would probably 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”.

Responding to this, Prudence Dailey (Oxford) was starting to be uneasy, she said. “The more demographic criteria we apply to this, the harder it becomes to choose the person on the basis of their personal characteristics. We have already quite rightly got geographical criteria. We now have criteria on the basis of male or female. I would hope, given the geographical criteria, that the majority of those selected would be of global-majority heritage, because of the areas they come from. I completely accept the point that it might be a white person could come from a region of Africa, but what if there were reasons why that person was the best person for the job?”

Canon Battye referred the Synod to her previous comments about offering “crumbs” to the Communion. David Hermitt (Chester), in a maiden speech, supported the amendment: “It includes those who have not been included in the past in decision-making.”

Alison Coulter (Winchester) was also supportive, but questioned putting restrictions on the Communion that the C of E did not have. Clive Scowen (London) reminded the Synod that the electoral processes of the Communion were completely different from those at home.

The amendment was carried on a show of hands.

A debate resumed on the final part of the motion, which provided for “vacancies in the see of Dover to be considered by the CNC as if it was a diocesan see” — a full CNC process rather than what Dr Harrison described as “a quasi-CNC [where the decision] would rest in the end with the Archbishop of Canterbury”. He said: “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.”

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities)

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 have 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”.

Canon John Dunnett (Chelmsford) was not against the motion, but had some concerns about the wording. Dover was not a diocesan see, he said, and that confusion was unhelpful. The provision being requested already existed, in his view: “I need to be convinced of amending Standing Orders to that effect.”

Miss Dailey declared a “romantic attachment” to the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury was the diocesan for Canterbury.

The Archbishop of Canterbury 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.”

Sam Atkins/Church TimesDr Jamie Harrison (Durham)

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 on a show of hands.

On Tuesday morning, the Synod voted for the revised Standing Orders to take effect from Wednesday. Dr Harrison was satisfied that Saturday’s debate had been “really good, open and helpful.”

Dr Atherstone also welcomed the move from principle to practicality, but wanted to see the five global delegates actively involved and in the room from the start of the process, not “disadvantaged” on Zoom. He also hoped that the Standing Committee would be counselled to consult the whole ACC body: “We need the process to be transparent and equable for the good of the whole Anglican Communion.”

Ms Chapman still believed that the wrong question had been asked, and the big picture had not been considered. “I wish we had started with a blank sheet of paper. . . I fear we’re missing huge steps of process. Ask the right question, not the question designed to get the right answer. Process matters.”

Ms Christie emphasised the importance of listening. “Let us listen better and ask questions about the future role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.” While she was “thrilled” at the prospect of a more diverse CNC, she asked: “Where are the voices of working-class Britain and the young? Is now really the time to rush? Ask the larger questions, and in the very near future.”

Archbishop Cottrell agreed that process mattered. “Sometimes we might get it wrong but we do need to be clear that the process has been followed,” he said, a process which had started 20 years ago with discussions on the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in relation to the C of E and the wider Communion.

“It absolutely did start with a blank sheet of paper,” he said. “I believe we’ve gone about it in the right way and that there has been a chance for alternative views to be aired, heard and debated.”

The motion passed with a counted vote of the whole Synod: 254 in favour, 46 against, with 25 abstentions.

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