Church of England Holds Debates on Archbishop of Canterbury Election
In a Church of England General Synod meeting this past month a proposal was debated to increase representatives of the global Anglican Communion in the Crown Nominations Committee. This is a move some see as more inclusive, but detractors fear it threatens the autonomy of Anglican churches and creates undue influence.
The Anglican Communion is made up of 41 autonomous members or provinces and has no central authority figure or body. Each member church makes its own decisions in its own way. However the member’s decision-making bodies are guided by the recommendations of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Primates’ Meeting, and Anglican Consultative Council.
The Crown Nominations Committee is responsible for selecting nominees for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader for the Church of England. It consists of 16 members. Currently, only one committee member represents countries of the Anglican Communion outside England. The new proposal now being debated by the General Synod would increase the number of committee members who represent the international Anglican Communion to five of the 16 or nearly a third of the vote.
The proposal covers arguments for and against the change and specifically calls attention to the colonial roots of the Anglican Communion, and of England as a whole, that is contrary to the autonomy of the global Anglican churches today: It states “The Church of England’s role within the Anglican Communion is rooted in England’s colonial history. These roots are neither monolithic nor simple, but nevertheless, as nations and peoples across the world seek to find better ways of relating internationally than the inherited and often unbalanced patterns still shaping our lives, the Church of England and the Communion cannot escape asking why a British cleric should always be primus inter pares [first among equals].”
Also explained in the proposal is the role of the Archbishop in the UK Parliament. Once elected, the Archbishop of Canterbury is a member of the House of Lords. The same is true for 25 additional senior bishops and archbishops of the Church serving in the House of Lords as the “Lords Spiritual.” They are independent and hold no party membership but may be influenced by the communities which they serve. What is not mentioned in the proposal is whether the fivefold increase of electors who are members of the Anglican Communion outside of England could, through their power to elect the next Archbishop, gain undue influence on British law and politics.