Archbishop of Canterbury calls for greater Anglican Communion say in selection of successor

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the 2016 Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka. Photo: Anglican Archives
Published February 9, 2018

The primates of the Anglican Communion should have a greater say in the appointments of future Archbishops of Canterbury, the current Archbishop, Justin Welby, said Thursday, February 8.

Welby made his comments during a debate at the Church of England’s General Synod on the working of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC)—the body that recommends appointments to diocesan bishoprics. Appointments of bishops in the Church of England are made by the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church, who acts on the advice of the CNC.

The CNC is usually chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury or York, dependent upon the province of the vacancy. Its membership includes central members nominated by the General Synod, and diocesan members, nominated by the diocese in which the vacancy occurs. In the case of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the CNC is chaired by an independent lay member of the Church of England, appointed by the British prime minister. And a primate of the Anglican Communion is selected to join the commission. Welby suggested that in future, the Communion should be represented by five primates—one from each region.

In autumn 2015, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York asked Professor Oliver O’Donovan professor emeritus, Christian ethics and practical theology, University of Edinburgh to lead a theological review into the working of the CNC. The review’s report, Discerning in Obedience, was the subject of a “take note” debate Thursday afternoon.

The review was primarily intended to provide the members of the CNC with “a theological framework within which to discharge their responsibilities as they nominate bishops” and “to enable the Commission to understand the nomination of diocesan bishops within the context of the wider church of God, in particular: the national responsibilities; the role of the Church of England within the Anglican Communion; and the wider Church catholic.”

It was also intended to “enable the Commission to understand the nomination of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York within the same context; to articulate any particular responsibilities of the Archbishops in relation to shaping the nature of the episcopate and the leadership of the Church; and to draw out the merits and disadvantages of the different ways of choosing bishops within the Anglican Communion.”

In law, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the diocesan bishop of Canterbury, but in practice, the day-to-day responsibility for the diocese rests with the area bishop of Dover. Area and suffragan bishops are usually selected by the diocesan bishop in a process that does not involve the CNC. The report suggests that because of the unusual responsibilities of the the bishop of Dover, the CNC process should be applied to vacancies there.

It also suggests that the diocesan representation on the CNC for vacancies in the Archbishopric of Canterbury should be reduced from six members to two—one ordained and one lay.

Welby said that he welcomed the proposals, but suggested that the reduction in diocesan representation should be matched with an increase in representation by Anglican primates, saying that the current CNC “doesn’t, at the moment, reflect the full balance of the Anglican Communion.”

He told the synod: “The work of the Archbishop in the Anglican Communion is quite demanding and quite extensive. The representative of the…other members of the Anglican Communion—about 90 per cent from the Global South—when I was interviewed was the Archbishop of Wales [Barry Morgan] who is a wonderful man who did a wonderful job as Archbishop of Wales, but may not have entirely represented the Global South.”

He said the inclusion of five Anglican primates from each of the regions on the CNC to choose future Archbishops of Canterbury would result in “a balanced and diverse representation of the entire Anglican Communion.”

Welby’s comments were part of a general debate and the synod was not asked to endorse or affirm his suggestion. After the synod voted to take note of the debate, future work will be done on the CNC. Any proposals for change would require legislative approval.


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