The election of a primate: a primer

Published April 1, 2004

When members of the 37th General Synod vote for a new primate on May 31, they will already have thought long and hard about who is right for the job of overseeing about 680,000 members and 1,800 parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Unlike past primatial elections where candidates were nominated and elected on the same day at General Synod, clergy and laity will now have more than a month to assess the qualifications of the nominees and to reflect on their choice.

Under new procedures adopted by the 1998 General Synod in Montreal, the house of bishops will meet between 30 and 120 days before the election to nominate candidates from their own ranks. Nominations for the election will take place during a house of bishops’ meeting scheduled on April 15-19.

The nominations take place in closed session, according to Rev. Michael Thompson, principal secretary to the primate. Any active bishop (not retired) is eligible for nomination. “When one person has a majority, he or she becomes a nominee,” he said. There should be at least three and up to five nominees.

Once the nominees are named, a package containing their biographical information will immediately be sent out to the approximately 310 General Synod delegates.

Bishop Terence Finlay of Toronto (now archbishop), who seconded the motion for new primatial election rules in 1998, had stated that the new procedure “meets the need for adequate advance information and for time for prayer.” He said, however, that some feared that the early nominations could lead to “the U.S. pattern where people are actually campaigning.”

Mr. Thompson said that while there are no provisions for candidates to campaign, it was inevitable for synod delegates to discuss their choices.

“There won’t be lawn signs but people will talk,” he said. “Candidates don’t visit dioceses and give speeches; there are no provisions for that.”

Under the old rules, an electoral synod was convened, after which the bishops met separately to nominate the candidates while the clergy and laity waited. Delegates had complained that the process left them little room to study and get to know the candidates.

While the bishops nominate the candidates, it is members of General Synod who elect the primate. The original constitution of the Anglican Church of Canada provided for the election of the primate by the house of bishops. That provision was revised in 1931.

The prolocutor of General Synod presides during the election. On the day of the election, General Synod will convene for a eucharist, after which the house of bishops will withdraw to another room and the clergy and laity will vote by ballot on the nominations made.

Primates through the ages:

From 1893, when the first primate was elected by the first General Synod, until 1969, there was no fixed primatial see (home to the bishop’s throne or cathedra); the primate also served as a diocesan bishop.

The first primate to maintain an office at the national office in Toronto was Archbishop Edward “Ted” Scott, who was elected in 1971.

The last four primates ? Archbishops Michael Peers, Ted Scott, Howard Clark and Walter Barfoot, hailed from western Canada .

The longest serving primate was Archbishop Samuel Pritchard Matheson, who served 22 years, from 1909 to 1931, followed by Archbishop Peers, who served 18 years, from 1986 to 2004; the shortest serving primates were Archbishop William Bennett Bond (1904-1906) and Archbishop Arthur Sweatman (1907-1909).

Of the 11 primates elected by General Synod, only three never served as metropolitans (senior bishops of an ecclesiastical province): Archbishops Derwyn Trevor Owen (1934-1947), George Frederick Kingston (1947-1950) and Ted Scott (1971-1986).

The name of any nominee who receives fewer than 10 per cent of the votes cast in each of the orders of the laity and clergy will be removed from the ballot before the next vote. If all nominees receive at least 10 per cent of the votes from both orders, the name of the nominee with the fewest votes in the aggregate will be struck out. An election occurs when a nominee wins the majority of the votes from both orders of clergy and laity. When a nominee has been elected, the order of bishops is notified; the bishops will then join the orders of clergy and laity and the acting primate ? Archbishop David Crawley ? will formally proclaim the new primate.

If the nominees are reduced to two and no one is elected after three successive votes, the bishops are notified. The bishops will then vote on the two nominees and the one who secures a majority is declared the primate.

Installation of the 12th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada will take place on June 4 at Christ’s Church Cathedral in the diocese of Niagara’s see city of Hamilton , Ont.

The primate plays a variety of roles ? president of the General Synod, chair of both the Council of General Synod and the house of bishops. He or she also acts as chief executive officer of the staff of General Synod.

Half of his or her time is spent outside the office. The primate establishes a pastoral relationship with the entire Anglican Church of Canada through visiting parishes, dioceses and provinces by invitation. He or she also travels abroad to represent the Anglican Church of Canada and to fulfill his or her role as president of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba.

The names of the nominees will be on as of April 19, 2004.


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