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General Synod digest: Global issues considered in debate about who chooses the next Archbishop of Canterbury

18 February 2022
Clive Mear/Church Times

The Archbishop of Canterbury leads morning worship in Church House, Westminster, before the second day of Synod began, on Wednesday

The Archbishop of Canterbury leads morning worship in Church House, Westminster, before the second day of Synod began, on Wednesday

CNC Canterbury

POSSIBLE changes to the composition of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for recommending names for the next Archbishop of Canterbury were debated by the General Synod on the Thursday afternoon when it took note of a report.

The report said: “It is important to recognise that many of the national Church responsibilities of the Archbishop are closely bound in with Communion responsibilities, as is his public voice. Current issues of global concern — the environmental crisis, migration, health related matters (HIV, Covid etc) — call for a Communion-wide response and engagement, which is demanding in terms of time and resources.”

But the report also recalled the background of “colonial history” and commented: “The Church of England and the Communion cannot escape asking why a British cleric should always be primus inter pares [first among equals].”

The Commission presently has 16 voting members: nine representatives of the national interests of the Church of England; six representatives of the diocese of Canterbury; and one for the Anglican Communion, which, in 2012, was the then Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan.

The proposal in the consultation paper is to reduce Canterbury diocesan representation from six to three. The Archbishops’ Council suggests a nine representatives of the Church of England’s national interests; three of the diocese of Canterbury; and five from the Communion.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Mark Tanner (in place of the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, who had tested positive for Covid), described the matter as cutting “to the heart of who we are. Words matter. . . So does the tone in which they are offered. It is a consultation, not a decision . . . a consultation about ‘our’ Communion.”

In 2015, he said, Canterbury diocese had asked for more voices from the Communion to be present. Other ways of addressing the imbalance had been suggested, including a revolving presidency.

“Canterbury does not hold juridical authority over a province, but is primus inter pares. We are not here to instruct the Communion on its polity. Everything must be done through a process of reception and consensus. Our sisters and brothers across the Communion matter to us.”

He continued: “Don’t think this is only about democracy. Don’t fear that this proposal allows Communion representatives to block an appointment: this is not about politics, but fairness. Don’t fear any conspiracies in the timing of it . . . [The present Archbishop] has publicly documented his wish to continue ‘for a good time yet’.”

The world was watching, he said. “Our brothers and sisters are observing our common body-language and words,” and the debate was “an opportunity to listen and understand each other’s voices”.

The Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley (Leeds), said that when she had been the Bishop of Waikato, in the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Poly­nesia, she had experienced “immense respect for the see of Canterbury and the Church of England”, while acknowledging that it was “not without complexity, and in many ways bore the scars and scorn of colonialism”. She had been dismayed by some of the responses to the consultation so far, she said, particularly the use of the word “foreign”. She asked: “If we reject this consultation . . . what will our sisters and brothers in Christ say about us?”

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), recalled a period in the 19th century, before Pusey, when “foreign mission” was left to private enterprises and missionary societies, and when bishops were not appointed outside of England. “These proposals help us to walk together . . . to explore together how we should engage in our own Church and in the context of the global Communion.”

The Revd Mae Christie (Southwark), who had recently become a British citizen, having been born and brought up in the United States, said that the Episcopal Church in the US had a prayerful relationship with the Anglican Communion. “We all prayed every Sunday for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion . . . connected him to our local story.”

The new proposals might have the opposite effect of what was intended, she continued: primus inter pares should be a guide, but this was an appointment and not an election “determined by the context they came from. We all know how tenuous that position is, requiring consent of all the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is, at heart, a bishop of the Church of England: he starts first at home. . . I worry this proposal may appear more rather than less colonial.”

Christina Baron (Bath & Wells) urged the Synod to reject the motion. A century ago, no one had expected the Archbishop of Canterbury to spend between 25 and 40 per cent of his time in the Communion. It was, therefore, right that the nomination process should change. “It would be a good thing to have wider consultation about the role, but don’t close the options by setting up an interview panel first,” she urged. “Taking note before a widespread consultation about what the Archbishop of Canterbury should be asked to do” would be premature.

David Kemp (Canterbury) said that the original motion in 2015 had been a plea for a change in the CNC for appointing the Bishop of Dover. He recalled a practical letter from Archbishop Ramsey to his own father, a clergyman, as an example of “an Archbishop [who was] hands-on in running his diocese” at a time “when we were sure exactly where decisions were made”. The Bishop of Dover was still an appointment of the Archbishop. He suggested: “Make the Bishop of Dover as near as possible to a diocesan bishop.”

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) also resisted the motion. “We need a Primate for all England — all of us,” she said. One reason for being “hamstrung” on matters such as sexual identity was that “our own Archbishop has had to have an eye to the Anglican Communion. Others have made strides; we remain in a quagmire.” She suggested that what was needed was “a whole new boat, not a rearrangement of deckchairs”. There were also sensitivities to be acknowledged, she said. Many in the Communion might be in communion not so much with the Archbishop of Canterbury as with the Queen.

The Revd Jake Madin (York) supported the broad aims of the consultation, but pointed out that a two-thirds majority was difficult to achieve from a membership of 17; the figure needed rethinking. He also reflected on where these representatives would be chosen from: “based on geography” was not representative of where most lived.

Canon Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) declared himself Canadian-born and raised. The original proposal seemed to be mainly about the Bishop of Dover, he said; consequently: “Are we trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Is it profoundly colonial? The Archbishop of Canterbury is primus inter pares, but that’s because none of us can come up with a viable alternative.” Should it, he asked, be a case of “a non-UK citizen telling the C of E it must be a decision made by English people”?

The First Church Estates Commissioner, Alan Smith, told the Synod about his upbringing in Barbados. His great-great-grandfather had been born a slave, but had built Anglican churches, and thus was one of only five people in Barbados to have a gravestone there, because Anglicans did not bury people of African descent. “The Lord has a sense of humour,” he said.

The Anglican Church had been there, “owning plantations where people were pieces of property. Here are we today, talking about giving 25 per cent of the vote to 75 per cent of our community.” The question was not, “Are you an Anglican? Are you Church of England?” but “Are we brothers and sisters in the global community?”

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham) intervened to remind the Synod that the risk of not voting to take note would mean that the business would lapse.

Jane Patterson (Sheffield) suggested that this was a good time for the consultation, because there was no vacancy. She supported the principle of rethinking the composition of the CNC, but wanted details. Questions could be included about the needs of the Communion, of the see of Canterbury, and other English sees, to ensure equal representation of diocese, national Church, and Communion. “That would send a signal that we mean action. Begin the conversation about the needs of Kent, England, and across the world.”

Gavin Drake (Southwell & Nottingham) declared an interest as communications director for the Anglican Communion; therefore, he would be abstaining from the vote. “We may not like the colonial part of our history . . . but the Archbishop of Canterbury carries weight and kudos that other bishops don’t,” he said.

The take-note motion was carried in a vote by Houses: Bishops 26 nem. con., with one recorded abstention; Clergy 102-27, with 13 recorded abstentions; Laity 112-43, with 12 recorded abstentions.

The consultation is open until 31 March.

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