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Communion is asked: Do you want to help choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury?

17 January 2022


Archbishop Welby sits in the Chair of St Augustine during his enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral, in March 2013 (News, 22 March 2013)

Archbishop Welby sits in the Chair of St Augustine during his enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral, in March 2013 (News, 22 March 2013)

AN international consultation has begun to ask whether Anglicans from around the world should have a greater say in the choice of the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

The consultation, set up by the Archbishops’ Council on Friday, takes up a diocesan synod motion from Canterbury diocese asking it to consider reducing the diocese’s representation on the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). The Archbishops’ Council proposes reducing the diocese’s quota from six voting CNC members to three.

At the same time, it has put forward the more radical suggestion of increasing the voting members from the Anglican Communion from one to five.

The new-look CNC would thus comprise: a chair appointed by the Prime Minister; two bishops, including the Archbishop of York if he or she is not a candidate; six central members elected by the General Synod (three clergy and three lay); three representatives from the Canterbury diocese; and five representatives from the Anglican Communion. The total number of voting members will increase from 16 to 17. In addition, there are the two non-voting appointments secretaries (the Archbishops’ and the Prime Minister’s); also the secretary-general of the Anglican Communion is a non-voting member.

The CNC’s task is to choose two candidates in order of preference. Voting is by secret ballot and successful candidates must gain at least two-thirds of the votes.

The rationale behind the proposal is given in a letter by William Nye, secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council. He writes: “The background purpose of the change is to enable the representation of the Anglican Communion to be increased. In a Communion that is at least 75 per cent from the Global South, at the last Canterbury CNC the entire Communion was represented by the Archbishop of Wales.”

The consultation document quotes Archbishop Welby, who reckons that 25 per cent of his work relates the the Anglican Communion, while only about five per cent is spent on diocesan work. The post of the Bishop of Dover has been enhanced in recent years to allow the Archbishop to concentrate on the national and international responsibilities.

The consultation document is not a neutral document but instead a piece of advocacy for the new proposal. It argues that many of the issues that the Archbishop of Canterbury addresses are global concerns that call for a Communion-wide response. It states: “The Communion-wide brief of the Archbishop can help facilitate learning from churches whose life is vibrant and growing.

“This dynamic enhances the role of the worldwide Communion and its significance for the Church of England. These considerations alone suggest that the balance of representatives on the CNC does not reflect the current nature of the role.”

It points out that the structure of the Anglican Communion, and the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is “rooted in England’s colonial history”. It argues, therefore: “The Church of England and the Communion cannot escape asking why a British cleric should always be primus inter pares” [“first among equals”].

It is not up to the Church of England, it says, to change this unilaterally. “What the Church of England can offer however is self-awareness of its own biases, and an attempt to make its own processes more inclusive and fairer.

“It may only be a small step, and a first step, but changing the composition of the CNC recognises the immense importance of the Communion, and seeks to work with them as partners by listening more carefully and inviting them into the discernment process.”

The document also talks about God’s call for the Church to be one, breaking down “barriers of race, culture, prejudice, and many other aspects of identity. . .

“The inequality of our present arrangements speaks neither of oneness, nor of holiness. The call of the Church to do justly asks that we consider how we start to disentangle the complex threads of our historic inheritance and find new ways of being.”

The document suggests that the five international CNC members would come from each of the five regions in the Communion: the Americas, the Middle East and Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Europe.

The proposal, however, specifically excludes “the four provinces of the British Isles” i.e. the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of Ireland, as well as the Church of England. Since the diocese in Europe is part of the C of E, this would leave this region to be represented by one of the Extra-Provincial Churches (Spain, Portugal, Bermuda, or Falkland Islands).

The consultation, which lasts till 31 March, is open to all, although it lists key partners who are being contacted directly: Buckingham Palace, the Prime Minister’s office, existing central CNC members, the General Synod, the College of Bishops, the diocese of Canterbury, the Anglican Primates, and the standing committee of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The questions include:

“Do you agree that the Diocese of Canterbury representation should be reduced from 6 to 3 members?

“Do you agree that the Anglican Communion representation should increase by 4 members to total 5 representatives on the CNC?

[If so] “Do you agree that they should be based on the Anglican Communion regions other than the four provinces of the British Isles?

“If you do not agree that there should be 5 Anglican Communion representatives but that there should be more than one Anglican Communion representative, do you agree that they should come from different regions of the Anglican Communion?” and

“Do you agree that the Anglican Communion representatives should be a combination of primates, clergy and laity?”

Respondents are asked to explain their answers and offer alternative suggestions.

Read the consultation document here

Read more on this story in our Leader Comment

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