Wednesday, June 12, 2002

The Next Archbishop

Let us talk sensibly about the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

God willing by January 1st 2003 the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury will be in place. We do not know (now in June 2002) who he will be.

In the church press which is read by less than 1% of the church-attending British population, there is speculation from time to time as to the identity of the next Archbishop. Very few people actually care who it will be. Those who are engaged in the choice (about 20 people in all), and especially the Prime Minister and the Queen, are not going to tell anything until the telling is the actual appointment, for all involved are bound to confidentiality.

Some people have claimed that "the choice of the next Archbishop could make or break the Anglican Communion." Such a claim is based either on ignorance or is deliberate exaggeration.

In fact, whoever the next Archbishop is, his hands will be tied in so many ways that the freedom left to influence things and events by his own particular convictions will be rather small and very restricted.

Consider that first of the Archbishop is the Bishop of a diocese and there are certain responsibilities and restraints imposed by this office; secondly, he is archbishop of a province (half of England) and has certain duties fixed by law and custom in relation to other dioceses; thirdly, the Church of England has a General Synod, which he chairs, and which devours a lot of his time and imposes upon him all kinds of restraints and duties; fourthly, he is the first citizen of the nation and has to observe all kinds of protocol and rules in relation to the traditions and laws of Great Britain and be available for many civic receptions and duties as well as for all kinds of inter-faith activities (of a social kind); fifthly, he inherits major ancient buildings (needing maintenance and management) an office with staff (including advisers and lawyers) and ways of doing things, which fashion how work is done (at least to begin with); sixthly, in relation to the Anglican Communion he has to relate to the permanent staff in the Communion Office and to the membership of the Anglican Consultative Council and further he has to respect the autonomy of each of the other 37 provinces of the Communion; and seventhly, in these days when the Church of England is short of money he has to watch the expenditure very seriously. And so on.

And consider just one of these areas..By the acts and working commissions of the General Synod, the Archbishop is bound by all kinds of rules and restrictions - e.g., he is in ecumenical relations with Lutherans in Northern Europe and in Germany, and with Methodists in the UK; he is engaged in a serious consideration of the doctrine of marriage and revision of the laws for the marriage of divorced persons; he is waiting for the findings of a commission of women in the episcopate while he (or a deputy) ordains women in his own diocese..and so on.

Taking all this (and more) into account it is easy to see that whatever be his theological convictions these can only influence decisively a small part of his overall work, duties and responsibilities and can only give a flavour to the rest, the majority, of his work.

Thus to claim that there could be a making or breaking of the Anglican Communion by this appointment is way off the mark. Though he is a primary "instrument of unity" of the Communion he is so by consent and custom and history, not by canon law and there are many other factors - e.g., American innovations in doctrine, discipline and worship -- that influence the making and breaking of the Communion.

Let us pray for the One who shall be the 104th Archbishop whose name God alone (at this time) knows.

June 12, 2002
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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