Ten further questions for the new Archbishop of Canterbury

At 11.00 am today, Downing Street finally announced that when the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon Rowan Williams steps down in December this year, the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and assume the formal roles and priorities summarized here.

Details of the procedures leading to his appointment were published by the Church of England on 16 March, here including the six principal aspects to the appointee’s role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and some useful Q&As.

Whilst the Crown Nominations Commission was expected to inform the Prime Minister of its first and second choice following its meeting in September, its inability to agree upon the second name resulted in an impasse, which has only now been resolved.

By contrast, the appointment of the Primate of All Ireland was achieved in less than 24 hours, here, albeit without the complications of establishment.  Likewise,  the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria negotiated its complex procedures and elect Pope Tawadros II without any apparent problem.

The new ABC will have many substantial and intractable tasks within his in-tray, and there will be numerous commentaries on the more obvious issues facing him: women bishops (and the possibility of a woman ABC next time around); same-sex marriage and civil partnerships; the outcome of Eweida et al; &c. However, there will be other important if less obvious issues to address, and here are some for which the readers of this web log might like to hear the answers:

1. How might you engage with other Christian Churches and other faith-communities in what is an increasingly multi-cultural, multi-faith society?

Data from the Office of National Statistics Integrated Household Survey for 2010 to 2011  have shown that whilst those professing to be Christian are still in the majority in Great Britain, (68.5%), the next largest grouping is those classifies as ‘No religion at all’, (23.2%).  Muslims comprise the second largest religious group, their numbers exceeding those of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists and others combined, (3.9%).

What are the areas of common ground on which the Church can engage with these groups of disparate beliefs and convictions?

2. Should the Church of England undertake a ‘root and branch’ review of its organization, such as those recently conducted in other churches?

The Church in Wales is engaged in a major reorganization exercise and its report Arolwg yr Eglwys yng Nghymru / Church in Wales Review received unanimous support at the meeting of its Governing Body in September. Central to its considerations was the view that

‘[t]he parish system, as originally set up, with a single priest serving a small community is no longer sustainable. It was put in place when people lived and worked in the same parish, when they did not travel except occasionally to the local market town and when it was assumed that church and nation were of one faith.

Does this provide a model for reviewing the operation of the Church of England?

3. Could the operation of the Lords Spiritual be more effective?

It has been suggested that the Lords Spiritual would be more effective if their selection were to take account of the ‘individual personality, experience, expertise and priorities of the individuals within the available pool of bishops’.

It is clear from its written submission, (GS MISC 1004), to the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill and the oral evidence of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Joint Committee on 15 November 2011, that the Church has considered the options for strategic reorganization of the Lords Spiritual were they reduced in number to 12 or less.

Although the reform of the House of Lords is now less likely, should the Church now build upon these considerations and develop a more effective voice in the House of Lords?

4. In your view, how important are electronic communication and social media in communicating the Church’s message?

On 2nd May 2011, the Pontifical Council for Culture and Social Communications organized a dialogue between bloggers and Church representatives to listen to the experiences of those who are actively involved in this arena. Should the Church of England follow this example?

Perhaps the importance of social media may be gauged from the use of Twitter by the Prime Minister to announce your appointment in addition to the more conventional Press Notice from No. 10?

5. What can be salvaged from the Anglican Covenant?

The Anglican Covenant now appears to be “dead in the water”, following an active “anti“ campaign and an ineffective “pro” campaign. Nevertheless, considerable time was expended in refining the various drafts, and there remains much within it on which there is general agreement.

What are your views on the future of the Covenant and its role within the Anglican Communion?

6. What are your views on the manifestation of faith in public life?

On 8 July, the General Synod voted by a substantial majority for the amended version of a motion on the Manifestation of Faith in Public Life

‘That this Synod: (a) express its conviction that it is the calling of Christians to order and govern our lives in accordance with the teaching of Holy Scripture, and to manifest our faith in public life as well as in private, giving expression to our beliefs in the written and spoken word, and in practical acts of service to the local community and to the nation; and b) request the Archbishops’ Council to introduce draft legislation to embody this conviction in the Canons of the Church of England’.

Given that the new Canon is unlikely to be influential in the decisions of the English courts, do you think that it will have any noticeable effect on the average churchgoer?

7. Politics and the Church

The New York Times reports that Pope-designate of the Coptic Church, Bishop Tawadros, has indicated that he plans to reverse the explicitly political role of his predecessor. The current position of the Church, expressed by Archbishop Rowan is

‘we shall . . . . . be effective not when we have mustered enough political leverage to get our way but when we have persuaded our neighbours that the life of faith is a life well lived and joyfully lived’

How do you perceive the balance between ‘political leverage’ and ‘persuasion of our neighbours’?

8. How achievable are the Church’s carbon reduction targets?

In Church and Earth 2009-2016, the Church of England announced its ambitious target of an 80% reduction in its carbon emissions by 2050, in line with government strategy. Now that the Church is about halfway into its initial programme of work, how confident are you that this ambitious goal will be met, and what difficulties do you envisage?

Will having a Secretary of State who is not fully convinced about global warming make the task that much more difficult?

9. Commercialization of Church Premises

We have seen the final episode of Inspector George Gently filmed in Durham Cathedral, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers’ Stone in Gloucester Cathedral and Lady Mary’s Wedding in Downton Abbey in St Mary’s, Bampton. Also, in its recent promotion of ‘church weddings’ the CofE web site notes that

“[c]ouples wanting a chic but great value reception are opting to cater for their wedding guests in the church itself – straight after the ceremony”.

How should the Church balance financial and other benefits of the greater use of its buildings and land with those who would see this as an intrusion into its sacred space?

10. Chancel Repair Liability

We are now less than a year from the deadline of 13 October 2013 when Parish Church Councils must register their interest is all affected land that is subject to Chancel Repair Liability. In a recent presentation to the Ecclesiastical Law Society, it was stated:

“the lack of any support [from the Church] nationally or at a diocesan level means that the body with the least resources, knowledge or ability to deal adequately with CRL [i.e. the PCC] is left with the responsibility of dealing with it …”

Given the limited time for action, is this an area in which greater national and diocesan support should be given to PCCs?

8 thoughts on “Ten further questions for the new Archbishop of Canterbury

  1. I don’t think you can take the National Office for Statistics figures or the Census figures on claims of Christianity in the UK terribly seriously since the questions are clearly interpreted by vast numbers as a question of ethnicity and little to do with religion at all.

    • I rather fear you’re right: reliable statistics on religion are extraordinarily difficult. However, the data published by the National Office for Statistics is probably the most reliable of what’s on offer – for whatever that might be worth.

      • The reason for using ONS statistics, as Frank suggests, is that they are: i] independent; and ii] statistically rigorous.
        I included the hyperlink so that readers could check the source, and the question asked of the sample from whom the statistics were derived: i.e. ‘respondents were asked the question ‘ What is your religion, even if you are not currently practising?’ which [ONS states] measures religious affiliation – that is identification with a religion irrespective of actual practice or belief.’
        However, the main point I was trying to make was not the absolute numbers but their relative value. This shows that whilst Christianity is still the largest faith group in the UK (I suspect that this would be the cases even if ethnicity &c were taken into account), the next group is made up of a significant number of those professing no faith, followed by a much smaller number in non-Christian groups.
        This is the context in which the new ABC will need to engage with the different groups.

        • No. I don’t think they show any such thing. I think they are misleading and that if you include ‘no faith’ as such a group then in reality Christianity is not the largest group at all. People are in very many cases are not answering the question you think they are answering.

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