The early January announcement by the Archbishop of Canterbury (and head of the Anglican Communion), Dr. George Carey, that he would retire before the end of the year, has put into motion a search for a successor who will be a key shaper of world Anglicanism and the Church of England.
There have been many reports and speculations in British media during the entire month of January. From the original 10 to 14 candidates, a short list of two candidates should be produced by the Crown Appointments Commission (13 members, chaired by a layman who will be nominated by the Prime Minister), explained The Times (Jan. 10).
The final two must be selected with the support of at least nine commissioners. The Prime Minister will then appoint one of them as Carey’s successor. Prime Minister Blair pledged that his decision on the next archbishop of Canterbury would not be influenced by the candidates’ views on issues such as the war on terrorism, according to The Telegraph, (Jan. 25). However, support is growing in Britain for splitting church and state links, reports the Guardian (Jan. 23).
According to the results of a recent poll, 48 percent of British voters say it is time to end the role of the Prime Minister in choosing the Archbishop. Only 36 percent of voters asked in the poll would like to see the Church of England keep its special position as the only state recognized religion.
The 37 foreign, self-governing churches of the Anglican Communion have no say in the appointment of their next spiritual leader, reminded The Times (Jan. 18). Despite the fact that the growth and vitality of the Anglican Communion is currently taking place outside Britain, the possibility of a non-British Archbishop of Canterbury is ruled out for the years to come. There are currently some 73 million Anglicans, including the 2.4 million member Episcopal Church in the United States. Church of England attendance has continued to decrease over recent years.
The Times (Jan. 11) adds that “Over the past generation, some 1,500 churches, roughly a tenth, have been declared redundant.” However, it still has about 20 million nominal members of the Church of England, although only about a million attend.
The Times still finds reasons for hope: the Church has developed with increasing success its role as educator, establishing new secondary schools.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW contributing editor who lectures in Religion at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland).