By John Martin
Delay in appointing a successor to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury is prompting questions about the viability of the role. Williams joined the debate last weekend, saying it was inevitable that changes would be made to lighten the archbishop’s workload.
He told the Compass Rose Society meeting in Canterbury there was clearly too much on his plate. He said there were always efforts to relieve him of a committee or two “so I get a five-minute break between meetings” but sooner or later significant changes need to be put in place.
The archbishop’s workload, effectively four jobs, will be an issue weighing on the chosen person. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the second citizen of the United Kingdom after the monarch, a responsibility involving many public tasks: he is Primate of All England, a diocesan bishop and president of the Anglican Communion. Any one of these roles could be full time.
Questions are being raised on whether the selection should be left to the 16-member Crown Nominations Commission meeting behind closed doors. The Rev. Giles Fraser, who resigned his canonry at St. Paul’s Cathedral at the height of the Occupy London protest, has called for an open election. The commission’s six members from the Diocese of Canterbury reportedly were taken aback at suggestions they had formed a block vote.
The Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is widely reported as the commission’s first choice. It is understood the deadlock within the commission concerns the second name to be sent to Prime Minister David Cameron. While the PM needs to send only one name to Queen Elizabeth II, the concern is to agree on a viable second choice in case the preferred candidate declines the post.
One reduction in the archbishop’s duties has been achieved in recent years by placing the Bishop of Dover in virtual charge of Canterbury diocese. The archbishop is based in Canterbury on weekends and only when he is not otherwise engaged. That invites the question why the Canterbury diocese warrants six votes on the CNC when the Anglican Communion has just one. Questions too surround the choice of the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales and an acknowledged liberal, to represent his fellow Primates of the Communion.
It is the archbishop’s international role that could be most easily changed. Primates’ Meetings date from Archbishop Robert Runcie’s time, and before him archbishops never attended entire Anglican Consultative Council meetings. It was Runcie who substantially developed the Anglican Communion role with the appointment of an assistant for Anglican affairs and extensive travel. Williams told members of the Compass Rose Society there was still no strategic plan for international visits, which tend to be agreed in response to invitations.
The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, has been listening to Archbishop Williams keenly. After a Daily Telegraph interview in which Williams discussed possible changes to the archbishop’s role in the Anglican Communion, Kearon quickly issued a media statement that no such changes were being considered. While it is in the interests of the Anglican Communion Office to guard the international dimension, Church of England attitudes to the Communion are diverse. Attendance at General Synod debates on the Communion is usually thin.
The archbishop’s role in the Anglican Communion is similar to Queen Elizabeth’s importance to sustaining the British Commonwealth.
One vital difference, however, is that without the support symbolised by the Canterbury connection some Anglican provinces and dioceses would be hard put to survive.