How the Archbishop of Canterbury is chosen


The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williamson, the head of the Anglican church, is stepping down at the end of the year. I could not quite figure the man out. He seemed a nice enough sort but wishy-washy. He epitomized the dilemma of the liberal Christian, trying to make nice with science and modern liberal sensibilities on issues of women and gays, while at the same time constrained by the absurdities of the Bible and his own institutional traditions that set limits on how far he could go. He was one of those religious leaders who I think would have been much more comfortable being a nonbeliever (another being the Dalai Lama) if not for the office he held. I am curious to see how his views evolve when he no longer has to serve as the defender of the faith.

It was also amusing to see how the new Archbishop of Canterbury is selected. England does not have the separation of church and state that the US has, and the Anglican church is the official church of the nation. Apparently a group of six people (three clergy and three lay) comprising the church’s appointments commission, and chaired by a civil servant, will select a preferred name and give it to the prime minister who then appoints the person.

This secular process of selecting a religious leader seems a little out of place. The process by which a collection of old and allegedly celibate men select a Catholic pope in a closed room, with all that white smoke/black smoke nonsense, seems somehow consistent with a secretive institution that is wildly out of touch with modern times and riddled with sexual abuse scandals. The selection of a new Dalai Lama by divining who is his reincarnation seems again consistent with their particular brand of mumbo-jumbo.

But a civil servant chairing a committee that selects the head of a church? Do they pray for guidance? What if the civil servant is a nonbeliever? I am sure they have a working system that addresses all these issues but it does seem a little odd.

Comments

  1. Ramel says

    This is the Church Of England we’re talking about, a church synonymous with annoyingly nice old ladies and cucumber sandwiches, having a committee chaired by some random civil servant is entirely consistent with the nature of the organisation.

  2. Alverant says

    It would be great if one of the three lay people were a non-believer. He/she wouldn’t have any problems with asking tough questions about the abuse scandals that’s been happening around the world for over a century. Questions like, “Have you ever failed to report a priest who’s been buggering children?” or “What would you do if you found out one of your flock was homosexual?” or “What is the proper position, in our opinion, of the church in the Queen’s country?”

  3. Trebuchet says

    Apparently a group of six people (three clergy and three lay) comprising the church’s appointments commission, and chaired by a civil servant, will select a preferred name and give it to the prime minister who then appoints the person.

    I’m surprised the final appointment doesn’t go to the Queen.

  4. Sili says

    Alverant,

    Has that sorta thing been rampant in the CofE? It’s not like they’re likely to hire a Catholic for the job. And I don’t think they do interviews, if I recall Yes, Prime Minister correctly.

    It does seem a nicely English way of doing religion.

  5. walton says

    I’m surprised the final appointment doesn’t go to the Queen.

    It does. See below.

    It was also amusing to see how the new Archbishop of Canterbury is selected. England does not have the separation of church and state that the US has, and the Anglican church is the official church of the nation. Apparently a group of six people (three clergy and three lay) comprising the church’s appointments commission, and chaired by a civil servant, will select a preferred name and give it to the prime minister who then appoints the person.

    It’s even more complicated than that. Technically, bishops and archbishops are elected by the cathedral chapter (the Dean and Canons of the Cathedral) of the relevant diocese. However, the rule is, and has been for centuries, that the cathedral chapter is required, by law, to elect whoever the Queen, in her capacity as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, appoints as bishop or archbishop.

    Today, when there is a vacancy in an episcopal see, the Crown Nominations Commission (formerly the Crown Appointments Commission), meets in secret to consider who to appoint. The Commission consists of six members elected by the General Synod of the Church of England (three clergy and three laypeople), the Archbishops of Canterbury and York ex officio, and six members elected by the Vacancy-in-See Committee of the relevant diocese. The Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, who is a civil servant, also participates as a non-voting member. After its deliberations, the Commission forwards two names to the Prime Minister.

    Normally, the Prime Minister then chooses one of the two names recommended by the Commission, although he does not have to; he can request additional nominations from the Commission. The last Prime Minister to do this was Margaret Thatcher, who rejected the Commission’s choice of Jim Thompson as Bishop of Birmingham, since she thought he was too left-wing. It was also Thatcher who hand-picked the trenchant conservative George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury.

    The Prime Minister then gives the Queen formal “advice” (on which the Queen is bound by constitutional convention to act) on who to appoint as bishop or archbishop. The Queen formally appoints the person chosen by the Prime Minister. After the Queen has made the appointment, the name is then passed to the cathedral chapter, who formally “elect” the new bishop or archbishop.

  6. CeePeeThreeOwe says

    “He was one of those religious leaders who I think would have been much more comfortable being a nonbeliever (another being the Dalai Lama) if not for the office he held. I am curious to see how his views evolve when he no longer has to serve as the defender of the faith.”

    From memory – In a television programme a few years ago the ABC was asked how he knew that there was a god – his answer was that he did not know – he had chosen to believe that there is.
    (The then newish RCC Archbishop of Westminster responded to the same question by asserting that there must be a god because otherwise there would be no church and therefore no morality.)

    ABC for honesty and RCC for salesmanship?

    Again from memory – ABC is also on record as saying that, after eleven years in a non-established church (Church of Wales), he would not see Anglican dis-establishment as a problem.

  7. F says

    And here I thought that one just sent a couple of knights fresh home from the Crusades to murder the Archbishop, then the Crown appoints whomever is politically expedient.

  8. James Power says

    I thought they just had a Terry Pratchett lookalike competition! You learn something new every day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>