On (not) choosing an Archbishop

An explanation of CNC and its apparent deadlock

On (not) choosing a new Archbishop

by Andrew Goddard

It would seem that the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) has failed to conclude its deliberations this week. Press reports that this is the case appear to be confirmed by the official statement that “the work of the Commission continues”.

Why is the CNC undecided and what can break the deadlock? To try to answer this it is necessary to understand matters of both composition and process within the CNC. These are set out in General Synod Standing Orders (para 122).


There are 16 full voting members of the Commission whereas usually there are only 14. This is because the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury introduces both a lay Chair chosen by the Prime Minister (Lord Luce) and a Primate of the Communion (Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales). In addition there are six members elected by Canterbury diocese and two bishops elected by the House of Bishops (to replace the two Presidents, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York). All 10 of these members have little or no experience of CNC processes. Then there are the 6 permanent members – 3 lay and 3 clergy – elected by General Synod most of whom have several years’ service and much experience in selecting bishops. One complicating factor is therefore that usually there are 8 permanent and experienced members and 6 new members (from the vacant diocese) but this time there are only 6 permanent members and 10 new members and neither Archbishop is present.


It is fairly certain that over the last few days the CNC began to vote on a shortlist of candidates arrived at in their previous two meetings. The vote takes place by successive secret ballots with the bottom candidate being eliminated. Crucially, however, a candidate needs to get 2/3 of the vote to be able to be nominated. As a result, it is quite possible to reduce the list to two candidates and face an impasse. A simple majority (9-7 in this case) is not sufficient. A candidate to be agreed and forwarded to the Prime Minister requires 2/3 of the members to vote for them. Normally that means they need 10 votes but with 16 voting members it means they need the support of 11 candidates. In other words, if 6 members are unwilling to vote for a candidate, members will keep voting until a candidate has 11 votes. If that does not happen then deadlock has been reached and the CNC composition means there are fewer experienced mediators who have worked through such difficult situations in the past and may recognise the need to shift their vote to assist the process.

This 2/3 requirement means that candidates with strong support but also determined opposition may be unable to reach the requisite number of votes. That scenario is quite possible in relation to some of the names likely being considered given the composition of the CNC. With six candidates from the diocese of Canterbury, if they are united or almost united in their opposition to a particular candidate then they may be able to block him.

The further complication is that if this hurdle is overcome then there is another one still to be faced because the CNC is required to submit two names to the Prime Minister (even though he now will simply forward the first name). This means that voting starts again with the original shortlist (minus the elected candidate) in order to get a second name. This nomination also needs the support of 2/3 of voting members.

In summary, to reach a decision there must be two candidates able to secure the support of 11 or more members. Six members determined to block a particular candidate favoured by the other 10 can therefore bring the whole process to a halt.

Finally, rather than assuming that the first candidate to get 2/3 is the first choice of the CNC there is yet another secret ballot to decide which of the two names will be placed first. Given the first candidate is now automatically accepted by the Prime Minister, the vote here is even more significant than it used to be. There should, however, not be a problem reaching this decision as it only requires a majority (as both candidates have secured 2/3 already) and if the vote is a tie (8-8) then “when the Commission is considering a vacancy in the Archbishopric of Canterbury or in the Archbishopric of York, the vote of the person presiding shall not be counted”.


It is likely that a lot of voting has taken place over the last two days but the CNC appears not to have got over all 3 hurdles. It may still have no candidate able to secure the vote of 11 members or it may have one but not two. An added complication in voting may be the belief that certain candidates with strong support (such as Graham James) have signalled they do not want the job, thus making it harder for them to get the necessary 11 supporters.

The only way forward when an impasse is reached is for members to take time away to pray. They are sworn to secrecy so they cannot take advice outside the CNC and if they do it is likely to leak. They must then reconvene, discuss where they are and keep praying and voting. The need in Standing Orders for a secret ballot suggests there is no way voting can take place electronically. The CNC is the only body authorised to submit names to the Prime Minister and there is, procedurally, no way of changing the existing rules so it may take a long time and could even be determined by one member being unable to attend a future meeting.

In the midst of much uncertainty what is clear is that the members of CNC (listed below), and the candidates they are voting on, are very much in need of the church’s prayers.

Addendum: A Mathematical and Historical Perspective
Leaving aside the challenges raised by perceived weaknesses in the candidates, the fracture lines within the CofE and Communion and the wide range of viewpoints among CNC members, a major problem is simply mathematical. This reality and its novelty can be illustrated by putting this vote in historical perspective. The key elements here are the decisive place of multiples of 2 and 3 which makes 16 voting members the worst size of a group, particularly when you factor in the regular to new members ratio noted above.
When Rowan was chosen there were 13 members on CNC as only 4 diocesan reps. A majority of these were experienced on CNC (6 General Synod members plus the then Archbishop of York, who did not vacate his seat as President). On a run-off unless someone abstained there would be a front-runner even on the closest vote (7-6). To reach 2/3 requires only 9 votes and so at 7-6 only 2 people need to switch to a candidate who clearly had a majority.
Usually there are 14 members of CNC. This means that there can be deadlock at 7-7 with no clear favourite but otherwise a close vote would be 8-6. Especially when someone is two votes ahead, with 8 experienced members (who are unlikely to be passionately concerned they get their candidate for the diocese of X), one (perhaps two) are likely to be open to shift and give the leading candidate the extra vote(s) they need to get 2/3.
Were there simply to be a new lay Chair (as in the past for Canterbury) there would be 15 members which is probably the best number. Here there should be a clear winner on a run-off as it is an odd number (split is 8-7 at closest) and so once it is down to two candidates it only requires a maximum of two people to switch to secure the necessary 2/3 majority with 10 votes.
However, by adding in a Primate, the CNC has 16 voting members. There is now an even number - the run-off can be a tie with no clear favourite (8-8) AND as it is one more than a multiple of 3 the bar has risen from 10 to 11.
In other words the CNC simply because it has 16 members could be finding itself down to two candidates, unable to discern which is the favourite. At such a point there is also the danger that, after further discussions, in a secret ballot two people supporting different candidates prayerfully decide to switch to break the deadlock leading to another 8-8 tie! Even once a favourite emerges the vote is 9-7 and 2 more people need to switch in order to get an agreed name with 11 votes.
The CNC then could find the same battle between 2 other candidates competing in a run-off for the other place. In addition with 10 new members, no Presidents (but 3 bishops and a Primate) and only 6 standing members (5 of whom know the candidates and the processes well, 1 has only recently joined) and with the stakes so much higher than for any other appointment it is unsurprising that more time is needed.

Prayer for CNC issued 26th September 2012

Almighty God,
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit's grace and presence
the members of the Crown Nominations Commission.
Keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may seek your will, manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Members of CNC


The Rt Hon the Lord Luce

Anglican Communion

The Primate of The Church in Wales, the Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan

House of Bishops

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham (

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome

Canterbury Diocese’s Vacancy-in-See Committee representatives

The Right Reverend Trevor Willmott

The Revd Canon Clare Edwards

The Revd Canon Mark Roberts

Mr Raymond Harris

Mrs Caroline Spencer

Mr David Kemp

General Synod representatives

Mr Aiden Hargreaves-Smith - London

Professor Glynn Harrison - Bristol

Mrs Mary Johnston - London

The Very Revd Andrew Nunn – Southwark

The Revd Canon Peter Spiers – Liverpool

The Revd Canon Glyn Webster – York

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