The decision is about politics, not prayer

Here is a headline that you do not want to read on a Sunday morning, whatever your religious allegiance: “Tory MPs urge Cameron to choose traditionalist as next Archbishop of Canterbury: John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is a Tory favourite.” 

The article reveals that two Tory MPs have favoured the Observer with their ideas about the succession for Canterbury; luckily enough there is also the following paragraph:

Tony Baldry, a Tory MP and church commissioner who is answerable to parliament over the activities of the Anglican church, urged his colleagues not to allow the process to find a new archbishop to become dominated by evangelical and liberal “labels”. He said: “I very much hope this doesn’t turn into some sort of contest between labels. It will be a long process and we need to be thoughtful and prayerful.”

Mr Baldry is right: the question of who should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury is one that should involve spiritual discernment. That is traditionally what the College of Cardinals are supposed to do when they go into conclave to elect a Pope. Historically it has not always been like that, but when politics has overshadowed prayer, it has been recognised as a scandal.

This article reminds us that the Prime Minister ultimately appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. True, there is a search committee, that presents the Prime Minister with two names, and he has to choose the first name, but Mr Cameron will have the last word on the matter. I find this absurd. Parliament has authority over the Church of England, and I find that absurd too, even if Parliament has delegated most of its powers to the General Synod. Of course, if Parliament had no such powers over the Church of England, then the Church of England would not be a national Church. But I also find the concept of a national church absurd. But then I would, being a Catholic. But surely most Anglicans must be uncomfortable with the way the new Archbishop is to be chosen?

Incidentally, the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be primus inter pares in the Anglican Communion, but the involvement of Anglicans from beyond the borders of England in the process seems to be minimal.

We will know pretty soon whether Archbishop Sentamu will be in the running: if he is part of the Crown Nominations Commission, it will rule him out; if he declines to serve on the Commission, it will be tantamount to declaring his candidacy. But whichever way, can we please stick to the thought and prayer and keep the MPs involvement to a minimum? And can we please abandon the idea that any candidate for the job is the candidate of one or other political party?