The path to primacy

Before the next primate can be chosen at General Synod 2019, the Order of Bishops must choose three to five nominees. Image: Saskia Rowley
Published January 16, 2018

Archbishop Fred Hiltz announced January 9 that he will resign as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada in July 2019. At that time, a new primate will be elected to lead the national church and represent it internationally. But how will this process unfold?

Hiltz has stated that he will resign July 16, 2019, the final day of the 42nd General Synod. Voting for the new primate will take place that same day. But before that happens, the Order of Bishops must choose between three and five nominees for the office of primate.

According to Canon III of the Handbook of the General Synod, these nominations must take place between 30 and 120 days before the primatial election. In 2019, nominees will be chosen at the House of Bishops meeting, April 29–May 3, 2019, in Niagara Falls, Ont. Any diocesan, suffragan or assistant bishop, as well as the Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces and the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop is eligible for nomination.

The waiting period after nomination is a relatively new addition to the election procedure. The 30- to 120-day timeline was adopted by the 1998 General Synod in Montreal. Before that, in primatial elections, candidates were nominated and elected on the same day.

Prior to the House of Bishops meeting, each bishop may nominate between one and three candidates, with those candidates’ consent. Until the 2004 election, nominees were chosen at the bishops’ meeting, but this gave candidates little time to consider their nomination, pray and consult with family. Now, nominations are sought by the primate approximately six months before General Synod—though additional nominations will be received until 10 p.m. the night before the vote at the House of Bishops meeting.

Voting by secret ballot will determine which three to five nominees will move on to the primatial election.

Though bishops nominate candidates from among their own number, they do not vote in the actual election. The primate will be elected by clergy and lay members of General Synod.

Immediately following the meeting of the bishops, the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada will send the names and biographical information of the nominees to all members of the Orders of Clergy and Laity of General Synod.

This biographical information includes a list of ecclesiastical offices held, dates of ordination and whatever accomplishments and personal information the nominee chooses to share. It will also include a statement by the nominee of his or her “vision of the role of Primate,” according to Appendix A of the Handbook of the General Synod.

On election day, when a quorum of General Synod is present, the Order of Bishops will withdraw to another room, and voting will take place by the Orders of Clergy and Laity. After the second and each following vote, the names of any nominee who has received fewer than 10% of votes—or if none, the nominee who receives the fewest votes overall—are removed from the ballot, until only two candidates remain.

An election occurs when a nominee receives a majority of the votes of the Orders of Clergy and Laity.

Canon III “also provides for the possibility that there might not be an election after a number of votes,” noted Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod, in response, by email, to a question about the voting process.

It also provides that either the Order of Clergy or the Order of Laity “may, at anytime after the second vote is taken, by resolution request further nominations from the Order of Bishops.”

If, after three successive votes on the final two candidates, no election occurs and no request for additional nominations has been made, the bishops will cast votes to decide the election. The candidate elected in 2019 will be the 14th primate.

The primate leads the Anglican Church of Canada “in discerning and pursuing the mission of God,” according to Canon III. He or she exercises “pastoral and spiritual leadership” throughout the national church by visiting parishes, dioceses and provinces subject to the invitation of diocesan bishops. He or she also travels abroad to represent the national church internationally and ecumenically. His or her ministry also includes speaking and writing “prophetically to the Anglican Church of Canada” and on behalf of the national church to the world, in consultation with other leaders of the church.

The primate serves as president of the General Synod, chair of Council of General Synod and chair of the House of Bishops, as well as the CEO of General Synod staff.

The primate serves until age 70 unless he or she resigns the position.

Editor’s Note: The final sentence of the third paragraph of this story has been updated to better reflect who is eligible for nomination.


  • Joelle Kidd

    Joelle Kidd was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2017 to 2021.

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