Canterbury, the Communion and CNC

Canterbury, the Communion and CNC

by Andrew Goddard

Last week the Church of England’s Crown Nomination Commission (CNC) met for the first time to consider the vacancy of the See of Canterbury. There are already apparently complaints about its unrepresentative composition but one element in particular must cause concern. As reported earlier in May by the Anglican Communion News Service, “The Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan, Primate of The Church in Wales, has been elected to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission for Canterbury, the body that will nominate the next Archbishop of Canterbury”.

I have to be honest that I did not react positively when I heard this announcement of the Primate to represent the Anglican Communion on the CNC. Here was another person from the British Isles representing the global Anglican Communion in this key process. How did this happen? The Archbishop of Wales is not, on almost any criterion, the most obviously representative Primate for the Anglican Communion nor is he the best person to bring a voice from wider global Anglicanism into the Church of England process of electing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The ACNS report was welcomingly open and transparent about how the result was obtained – “Archbishop Morgan was elected by members of the Standing Committee. They had been asked to nominate one Primate to represent the Anglican Communion on the Commission and their chosen Primates were grouped according to the five regions of the Communion. The Standing Committee then voted by single transferable vote—the method agreed by the Anglican Consultative Council for all its elections—and the name of Abp Morgan emerged”

Many matters, however, remained unclear even to me as someone who has probably an unhealthy interest in both electoral processes and the Anglican Communion:

  • Why was the person elected by the Standing Committee (whose composition has been subject to widespread criticism) rather than, say, the Primates?
  • Where did these five regions come from and how did they function?
  • What exactly was the electoral system?
  • Why did it produce not just someone from the British Isles but neither of the Primates chosen from that region at the last Primates’ Meeting to serve or act as alternate on the Standing Committee?
  • Did “Global South conservatives” opt out the process and so hand it over to a “western liberal”?

So what happened?

A new system – background and rationale

As ACNS reported, “This is the first time that a Primate of the Anglican Communion has been invited to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission”.

The background to this is illuminating. The Church of England report “Working with the Spirit” (GS 1405) on choosing diocesan bishops was published in 2001. At para 3.82 it noted:

“When a vacancy in the See of Canterbury is discussed, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion is invited to serve as a non-voting member of the Commission. We note the growing importance of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role within the Anglican Communion, and do not consider that the present arrangements any longer do justice to this. We doubt whether one individual can adequately represent the diversity of the Anglican Communion. In our judgement it is also now appropriate for the representatives of the Anglican Communion to be voting members of the Commission. We therefore recommend that for consideration of a vacancy in the See of Canterbury, the membership of the Episcopal Nominations Commission should include, as voting members, the Chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion (with the Vice-Chairman of the ACC as a substitute if the Chairman or Secretary-General is unable to serve). This would increase the membership of the Commission by one, and the voting membership by two, for this one particular vacancy”.

A steering group met in 2002 to follow up these recommendations and its report amended them in significant ways. It said the Secretary General should remain a non-voting member rather than become a voting member (D.10) but thought it important there be a voting member from the Communion (D.11). It reported that the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) had been consulted about a proposal that the voting member should be “a member of the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion elected by the members of the Primates’ Meeting”. In response the JSC had proposed that “the voting member should be either a Primate or any suitably qualified member of the ACC, elected by the Joint Standing Committee” (D.12).

In the light of this the proposal was modified to enable the JSC to choose the person. This was done on the basis that “if the person is to represent the Anglican Communion, it is fitting that the relevant instruments of the Anglican Communion should decide which body is the most appropriate to choose the Anglican Communion’s representative” (D.13).

However, the Steering Group stated “we remain convinced that it will most assist that process if the voting member is a primate” (D.14) although this fails to acknowledge that the ACC Chair (the original proposal quoted above) is not necessarily a Primate. This was thought important “not only because of the growing significance of the Primates’ Meeting and of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role in it, but also because the insights of a fellow-primate may be especially valuable to the Commission” and it was thought the Secretary General would be “able to feed in the perspective of the ACC”

Although this change was not implemented in time for the appointment of Rowan Williams, the composition of the CNC was revised shortly afterwards.

Strictly the body is the Crown Nominations Commission of the General Synod and its legal basis is found therefore in the General Synod’s Standing Orders.

Section 122(c)(iv) now reads

“Where the Commission is to consider the vacancy of the Archbishopric of Canterbury one of the members of the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion elected by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council shall be a voting member of the Commission and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion shall be invited to serve as a non-voting member of the Commission”.

Although its reference to the “Joint Standing Committee” is now outdated due to changes in the ACC Constitution there is no doubt that the Standing Committee which elected Barry Morgan is the body referred to here.

When and how elected?

As the ACNS report says, the election took place recently by email. This was because the Standing Committee only meets once a year and (as it had not been informed of this change in CofE procedures until recently and has not met since the vacancy at Canterbury was announced) it had not been able to elect someone at a formal meeting. In future it is apparently planned always to have an elected primate ready to fulfil this role without a hurried election.

As ACNS also reports, the election took place by the Single Transferable Vote (or here strictly the Alternative Vote as there is only one seat to be filled). In this system voters number candidates in order of preference and the bottom candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed until one candidate reaches a quota (in this case 50%). This system is used for synodical elections in the Church of England and it was used here because the ACC has decided to use it for all its electoral processes.

What are the five regions?

The Primates’ Meeting has existed since 1979 and throughout its existence it has elected members to a Primates’ Standing Committee (and thus now to the Standing Committee) by dividing into five regions - Africa; Central, North and South Americas & the Caribbean; East Asia & Oceania; Europe; Middle East & West Asia.

Who are the members of the Standing Committee?

The Standing Committee (SC) is described on the Anglican Communion Office website here. It has seven members elected by members of the Anglican Consultative Council or, in the case of a vacancy between meetings, by the SC itself. One of those elected, the Bishop of Ceylon, has recently retired from ministry and so his seat is vacant until ACC meets to elect a new membership later this year. There are also five members elected by the Primates to the Primates’ Standing Committee, and the Chair and Vice-Chair of the ACC, elected by the ACC members in plenary session. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the SC’s President and the Secretary General is an ex officio non-voting member. The current membership – grouped by the 5 regions - is given below although it is important to note that the members elected by the ACC (or in the case of Trisk and Alvarez by the SC between ACC meetings) are not elected regionally.

Africa (4)

  • Bp James Tengatenga (Chair, Central Africa)
  • Abp Daniel Deng Bul Yak (Primates’ Standing Committee member, Sudan)
  • Mrs Philippa Amable (ACC appointment, West Africa)
  • Revd Canon Janet Trisk (ACC appointment, South Africa)

Central, North and South Americas & the Caribbean (3)

  • Bp Katharine Jefferts Schori (Primates’ Standing Committee member, USA)
  • Bp Ian Douglas (ACC appointment, USA)
  • The Revd Maria Cristina Borges Alvarez (ACC appointment, Cuba)

East Asia & Oceania (3)

  • Abp Paul Kwong (Primates’ Standing Committee member, Hong Kong)
  • Dr Anthony Fitchett (ACC appointment, New Zealand)
  • Dato’ Stanley Isaacs (ACC appointment, SE Asia)

Europe (2)

  • Canon Elizabeth Paver (Vice-Chair, England)
  • Bp David Chillingworth (Primates’ Standing Committee member, Scotland)

Middle East & West Asia (1)

  • Bp Samuel Azariah (Primates’ Standing Committee member, Pakistan)

How were candidates chosen and the Primate of Wales elected?

It would clearly not be sensible to present these members of the Standing Committee with the names of nearly forty serving Primates and ask them to number these in order of preference. Therefore all members of the SC were asked to nominate one person from each of the regions, allowing them if they wished to nominate up to 5 candidates. The candidate from each region who gained the most nominations was then approached as to whether they were willing and able (given CNC dates) to represent the Communion. It appears the nominees were not asked to offer any form of statement about what they would bring to the role or how they would function on CNC if elected.

The election then occurred with SC members being asked to number in order of preference the 5 candidates (one from each region). With 13 voters and the need for over 50%, election required 7 votes. If nobody received this on the first ballot, the bottom candidate would be eliminated and their votes distributed to second preferences and so on until a candidate achieved 7 votes. This process will have been done electronically as it is for General Synod elections in the Church of England.

How can the election of Barry Morgan best be explained?

A number of factors (in no particular order) would appear to have led to the result, assuming that nomination and voting took place on the basis of a mix of personal knowledge of the candidates and personal hopes for the future direction of the Communion. Given that all SC members participated in the election and there was no refusal to participate in principle (as has happened recently in some activities of the Instruments) it would appear the following were likely key elements –

(1) The Europe region had effectively only 3 possible nominees as both Canterbury and York are excluded leaving only Scotland (on the SC), Ireland (alternate SC member elected by Primates in Dublin) and Wales (former member of SC who did not stand for re-election in Dublin). All other regions had at least as twice as many possible nominees.

(2) Given that the Primates and the ACC do not meet together, many of the ACC members electing would not know many of the Primates unless they had served with them on the SC and the ACC. This would give an advantage to Primates currently or recently on the SC in both the nomination and election process. Barry Morgan attended ACC-13 (2005) and ACC-14 (2009) as a member of the Primates' Standing Committe and so Joint Standing Committee.

(3) Those on the SC of a more liberal theological persuasion (TEC’s Presiding Bishop and Bp Ian Douglas, Janet Trisk, Maria Cristina Borges Alvarez, Anthony Fitchett, David Chillingworth) are likely to have placed Barry Morgan high on their list of preferences, probably giving him 5 or 6 (of the 7 necessary) votes by the end of the first or second round (It is possible that the Primate nominated as a candidate from Central, North and South Americas & the Caribbean would also be from a similar tradition in Anglicanism).

(4) As one of the longest-serving Primates (he has served since 2003) who was a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion which produced the Windsor Report and also a member of the (Joint) Standing Committee, Barry Morgan would be well-known to all the members of the SC.

Whether for these or other reasons, the Primate of Wales gained the requisite 7 votes and was declared duly elected with the second candidate being declared the Alternate who would sit on CNC if he was unable to take his place as a member (as happens with membership of the Primates’ SC).

What lessons can be learned?

As a result of following due process, the Anglican Communion will now be represented on CNC by someone from Ireland (the Secretary General) and someone from Wales. The new seat on CNC was created in part because, as quoted above, “We doubt whether one individual can adequately represent the diversity of the Anglican Communion”. Although there are now two individuals, serious questions must be asked as to whether these two particular individuals, for all their strengths, can, “adequately represent the diversity of the Anglican Communion”. If that concern is valid then what changes might be introduced to enable a more adequate representation in the future?

First, the decision to use the 5 regions was understandable given their role in election of members of the Primates’ SC. However, despite apparent acceptance of this structure at the Dublin Primates’ Meeting (where over a dozen Global South Primates, including most from Africa, were absent), serious questions must be raised about whether this enables the SC to be truly representative of the Communion as a whole.

When it comes to elections to a post on CNC this skewing of the process is even more of a problem. There are only 5 Primates in the “Europe” (strictly British Isles) category and 2 of them are not eligible as Canterbury is the see which is vacant and York has a seat on CNC already (although he may vacate it). There are therefore only 3 Primates to choose from and so to give this region equal weight with others seems unbalanced, particularly given it is the one closest to the Church of England and from the point of view of much of the Communion the other provinces are much more similar to England than to the rest of the Communion.

In addition, it is not only the case that some regions will have more widely known Primates than others but it may well be that one area has more than one strong candidate for the post and another area has no strong candidate. By this process, however, each area is limited to one and required to have one nominee. When electing 5 Primates to the SC there is some rationale that it be done by region so that each region is represented. When electing 1 Primate to represent the whole Communion, the equalisation of regional representation is less obviously an important element in the nomination and election process.

Second, given the aim is to have two seats to “represent the diversity of the Anglican Communion”, the representation already brought by the Secretary General should be considered in the deliberations. If the regional structure is maintained, there may even be grounds to consider encouraging the SC to select a Primate from a region other than that represented by the Secretary General, particularly if, as at present, the Secretary General, is from the British Isles.

Third, given many of the electors will not know many Primates there may be better ways of nominating candidate (eg Primates could nominate and SC elect) and/or electing them than using only the Standing Committee. Certainly some statement as to how they would exercise their role on CNC from candidates could help voters. Voters should perhaps be clearly reminded that they are not being asked to vote for their own personal preference. They are being asked to choose someone who, along with the Secretary General, could most adequately “represent the diversity of the Anglican Communion”, presumably referring to its cultural, racial and national diversity as well as its theological diversity.

Fourth, it appears there is no clearly defined role for the Primate as a member of the CNC and it may be beneficial for the Instruments to consider more fully what is expected of someone in that position. This job description could then guide both those who elect and the selected Primate in fulfilling their responsibilities.


Despite this new seat on CNC having been decided several years ago by the Church of England, it appears little was done to communicate this to and round the Communion and to consider some of these issues. As a result, the problems have only surfaced now in the light of the outcome of this first election. The Primate of Wales has attended the first of three projected meetings of the CNC. He, and Kenneth Kearon, both need the prayers of the Communion as they seek to listen to the voices from outside the British Isles and represent these as they use their voice (and in Barry Morgan’s case, also his vote) in the process. Those who could have brought quite different geographical, cultural and theological representation, including those from the Global South, also need to be encouraged to express their views and hopes to the Communion’s representatives.

Longer term, it is to be hoped that as a result of this experience there will be a review of the processes. If such a review can occur then perhaps in future this new process will result in the two representatives of the Communion genuinely bringing “the diversity of the Anglican Communion” into the CNC and the Church of England processes for choosing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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