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02 November 2012

The next archbishop...

The next archbishop...

The Anglican Church is deciding who will succeed Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev Mike Talbot, vicar of Emmanuel Church Northwood and Chair of the Evangelical Alliance Board, takes a look at the process.  

Multinational companies do it, American citizens do it, even Egyptian Orthodox Copts do it. So why does the Anglican Church apparently not manage to choose a leader after so much agonising and struggling? For some, it is a sign of the incompetence and outdated secrecy of an organisation that needs to reform itself. For others, it underlines the importance of taking time to discern God's will, and not to allow the pressure of deadlines or the immediacy of social media to prevail. The truth (for this is the Anglican Church, after all, with its love of the Via Media) is probably somewhere between the two.

Whoever accepts the job will face an almost impossible task – on the home front, the outcome of the forthcoming vote on women bishops in General Synod will leave division and pain, whatever the result – but that is likely to pale into insignificance in comparison with the debate on human sexuality which is coming down the line. Add to that a church which is facing falling numbers, with a rapidly greying membership, and reduced clergy, along with entrenched theological differences between liberal, evangelical and catholic streams and the problems mount; before the wider Anglican Communion, or civic responsibilities are added in. He is to be a spiritual leader, the CEO of a major company, an international ambassador, a politician, a pastor and a theologian. He will already be a bishop, who will avoid ruffling too many feathers, but at the same time be his own man. And he will have responsibility for the Diocese of Canterbury. The job, in short, is an impossible one to do, but no-one is (yet) prepared to tackle that problem.

The appointment of any diocesan bishop involves a mixture of people on the Crown Nominations Commission – some from General Synod (who serve throughout a fixed term) and some from the relevant diocese (in this case, Canterbury). Because the archbishop is also a diocesan bishop, the diocesan representatives carry significant weight, not least by the number that are involved. All are sworn to secrecy, which hasn't stopped journalists, amongst others, doing their best to discover what is happening (or, failing that, to guess). All we can know for certain is that the Commission has seemingly failed to reach a consensus – the danger is that they will end up with a candidate who is the least unacceptable across the board, and is a safe pair of hands, rather than one who might be prepared to be a risk taker. As to discerning who is the man of God's choice, in New Testament times they resorted to casting lots. Maybe asking a blindfold child to draw a name out of a hat has some merit to it.

In the meantime, all of us, whatever our particular style of church, would do well to pray for the outcome, whenever it happens, that all who are chosen to lead us would do so in such a way that those who oppose the gospel might see their good deeds and glorify God.