September 30, 2012

Thoughts on Choosing an Archbishop of Canterbury

It seems to be the consensus that the Crown Nominations Commission, which just completed what was supposed to be its final meeting to select two names to submit to the Prime Minister (and, ultimately, the Queen) to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, has deadlocked. Each of the two candidates needs to have the votes of 11 of the 16 members of the Commission to be selected, so a deadlock is not a complete surprise, particularly since none of the likely candidates seemed to have a lock on election.

Two days ago, Anglican Communion News Service put out a press release titled “Update on the Crown Nominations Commission of the Church of England”:
This week’s meeting of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) has been accompanied by much speculation about possible candidates and the likely timing of an announcement of the name of who will succeed Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury when he steps down to become Master of Magdalene College.

The CNC is an elected, prayerful body. Its meetings are necessarily confidential to enable members to fulfil their important responsibilities for discerning who should undertake this major national and international role. Previous official briefings have indicated that an announcement is expected during the autumn and that remains the case; the work of the Commission continues. There will be no comment on any speculation about candidates or about the CNC’s deliberations. Dr Williams remains in office until the end of December.
Commentators have focused on the clause “the work of the Commission continues,” since it is presumed that the work of the CNC world have been completed had it been able to select the requisite two names. If the CNC has not identified a candidate and an alternate candidate, it is not clear what happens next. According to the Guardian, however, “It is understood the panel will be holding a further session.”

Mark Harris, on his blog Preludium. notes that Rowan Williams has suggested that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury may be too much for a single person, carrying duties of diocesan bishop—Rowan seems to have farmed much of this out to others—metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Canterbury, Primate of All England, and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. Rowan chairs the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee, and plans, sends invitations to, and presides at the Lambeth Conference. He also has assumed various ecumenical duties.

Is all this too much for one person? You bet it is! I cannot say if this overburdened position is cause for the apparent indecisiveness of the CNC, but I don’t think it has to be. Mark Harris suggests that duties related to the Church of England represent the most important portfolio of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I completely agree. In fact, I told the CNC as much.

If the burden of responsibilities have weighed heavily on the shoulders of Rowan Williams, perhaps it is because he took on an impossible task. He abandoned his own theological views and simply adopted the goal of trying to keep all parties happy through appeasement. He is trusted by no one because he seems to have no moral compass. He seems to have no moral compass because he put it aside in order to “serve” the Anglican Communion (and, I would argue, the Church of England, as well). His failure was assured when he convinced Jeffrey John to reject the appointment as Bishop of Reading. He thereby proved that he could be intimidated and has never recovered from that revelation.

Rowan Williams had the hubris to think that by placing his own integrity on the sacrificial altar he could somehow hold the Anglican Communion (and the Church of England) together. He was wrong, and both the Communion and the Church of England are worse off than when he was enthroned.

Rather than trying to wield power that no one had granted him for the elusive goal of unity, Rowan should have accepted his limited political power and relied on the moral force of honest convictions. That may or may not have made him more successful, but it would have been less stressful and made him a more sympathetic figure.

Let us hope that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will learn from the failure of his predecessor. He will be a happier and, ultimately, more successful archbishop if he relies on his own convictions, trusts in God, and lets the chips fall where they may.

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