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

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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  1. The ACNS article caption reads:”Justin Welby calls for greater Anglican Communion say in selection of successor.” However inside the article the vision is scaled way back in that participation from the wider Communion means participation by Primates. ” …inclusion of five Anglican Primates …would result in ‘a balanced and diverse representation of the entire Anglican Communion.’ ” Really.

    Clearly this advances the dream of many of the primates for a kind of Anglican curia with a quasi-college of Cardinals electing a quasi-pope. If one wants to go this route then instead of primates why not representative clergy and laity from the Anglican Consultative Council chosen by them from their membership?

    Better still, let’s reduce rather than expand the so called “instruments of Communion”. Ironically, some of the Primates take on more power when they meet as a group than they have at home in their own provinces.

  2. As a lay person and Church member most of my life, educated in Canterbury but living in now Canada, I am always interested in the connections between the wider world and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role as head of the Anglican Church (under the monarch). Few understand this process in other countries.
    We have a fine Archbishop overall in Canada who will be retiring in 1919. Archbishop Hiltz has said that he has enjoyed the meetings with Archbishop Welby and both have gained from them. I think that men and women who have been administrators in the Church have more knowledge of what is entailed in the role of an Archbishop of Canterbury than most lay people.
    . A recent visit to Uganda revealed to me that the church in several African countries is vibrant and have members who live the gospel daily. I was impressed by joyous services and the strong knowledge of the Bible that individual Christians had. Prayer is important to them.
    I feel that input from the wider Church would enhance understanding and co-operation between churches in the Anglican Communion. But I do see what Mr.Gillis wants our Church to avoid.
    Archbishop Welby has shown us by his own actions, how important it is to make all decisions through much prayer and by listening for God’s voice. We need to value that.

    • Thanks for the interesting comment. Regarding your point about the Archbishop of Canterbury and the monarchy, it was a request from Canadian bishops that encouraged Archbishop of Canterbury Charles Longley to convene what became the first Lambeth Conference in 1867. One of the things Longley wrestled with was calling the proposed gathering, considering the relationship of the ABC to the sovereign. There is a very good section on all this in the book, The Lambeth Conference: Theology, History, Politics, and Purpose.

      On the larger point, there is already a space for one primate on the CNC with respect to choosing an Archbishop Canterbury. If the goal is to increase consultation with the wider Anglican Communion why not expand representation beyond one ‘instrument of communion’ already represented i.e. The Primates, and include one or more lay people from another of the instruments i.e. The Anglican Consultative Council. In some ways, laity have been more constructive in making Communion partnerships work than have the primates.

      Otherwise, I agree with my colleague Fr. Julio Martin (below), adding a cohort of primates may indeed open a Pandora’s box.


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