Confirmation of the Election of the Archbishop of York

The Election of The Rt Rev Stephen Geoffrey Cottrell as the 98th Archbishop of York was confirmed on Thursday 9 July 2020 at 11.00am at the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York. The Order of Service includes a description of the legal processes involved, which is reproduced below.

The Legal Process

The Vicar-General of the Province of York introduces the legal proceedings, explaining their origin and purpose, and how they have been adapted in the unusual circumstances of the coronavirus so that they can be held ‘virtually’ with the participants taking part via Zoom.

The Vicar-General says:

We now commence the legal process by which the Election of the new Archbishop of York is to be confirmed.

There are three stages in the appointment of a bishop.

The first is the selection. That process involved the Crown Nominations Commission which, after consultation in the Diocese and in the wider province of York, recommended that the Prime Minister should submit Stephen Cottrell’s name to Her Majesty The Queen for appointment as the 98th Archbishop of York.

The second stage involved the Queen giving permission to the College of Canons of the Cathedral to elect the next Archbishop of York and recommending to them the person they should elect. The Queen then by her Letters Patent commissioned the bishops who have come together today to confirm that Election.

The third stage is usually the enthronement of the Archbishop in the cathedral which marks the effective commencement of the new ministry. In the present circumstances that cannot take place, and the commencement of the new Archbishop’s ministry will be marked in a video which will be released at the conclusion of these proceedings.

The act of confirmation involving the Archbishop of Canterbury and other senior bishops from the Provinces of both York and Canterbury reflects the fact that since at least the fourth century it has been a fundamental principle that confirmation of an episcopal election on behalf of the wider church is necessary.

The act of confirmation is legally very important because it confers upon the Archbishop the spiritual jurisdiction over the Diocese by committing to him ‘the care, government and administration of the spirituals’ of the Archbishopric. It is, therefore, the confirmation of the election which makes the Archbishop-Elect into the Archbishop of the Diocese.

The wording used in the process of confirmation has a long history. Before the eighteenth century it was in Latin, but in about 1733 an English translation was introduced. Today a somewhat modernised version is used which has been adapted to deal with the restrictions that prevent us being together in one physical space.

Sitting as a court of law (as Commissioners of Her Majesty The Queen, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England), the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops have to decide whether the procedural steps have been properly carried out so that the election of the new Archbishop can be confirmed. There are several stages in the proceedings.

First, in accordance with the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533, there is the direction from Her Majesty to the Commissioners in the form of Letters Patent calling them together to confirm the Archbishop’s election.

Secondly, the Advocate will introduce the Archbishop-Elect, and the Proctor will prove to the Commissioners that all the necessary procedures have been complied with and that no objections should be permitted to be heard.

Thirdly, the Archbishop-Elect will take the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, as required by the Canons of the Church of England and make his Declaration of Assent.

Fourthly and finally, His Grace, if the Commissioners are so satisfied, shall read the sentence or decree of the Court, which confers upon the Archbishop the spiritual jurisdiction over the Diocese.

In the unusual circumstances that have prevailed by reason of the coronavirus, His Grace, having the conduct of the Court within his discretion, has directed that the proceedings will take place through a video conferencing facility.

To the extent that such a novel approach might raise questions of validity or identification, I can confirm that the Vicars-General of both Provinces, along with other senior legal officials in the Church of England, have expressed themselves satisfied that in these circumstances, this approach using electronic means to fulfil the requirements of the historic legislation is entirely appropriate; and, I might add, the Archbishop-Elect, who has been the Bishop of Chelmsford and before that was Bishop of Reading is well-known to all those taking part in these proceedings today.


On 20 May, the Church of England issued a Press Release reporting that the Election would be conducted in a service broadcast entirely via video conference due to the Coronavirus restrictions. As Presiding Judge, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby,  granted permission for the virtual service to take place.

A further Press Release reported that  Bishop Stephen had been formally ‘Elected’ by York Minster’s College of Canons to be the 98th Archbishop of York. The election endorsed the Queen’s nomination of Bishop Stephen as the new Archbishop.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Confirmation of the Election of the Archbishop of York" in Law & Religion UK, 10 July 2020,

4 thoughts on “Confirmation of the Election of the Archbishop of York

  1. I knew Stephen Cottrell when he was first appointed to Chelmsford. He visited the newly formed parish where I then lived. He was an excellent influence in bringing the seven churches together, and in emphasising the evangelistic role of bishops and the church. I hope he is able to continue in that vein.

    But on the legal side, whilst I see that it was possible to conduct this appointment by Zoom, and indeed the entire process from nomination by the CNC onwards seems to have been capable of being conducted virtually, it seems odd that we cannot make less senior appointments virtually. I am thinking particularly of the elections of PCC members and churchwardens which have to take place by the APCM and vestry meeting. The advice is that they must take place in corporeal person (or in 3D as a friend puts it, in the vernacular).

    Presumably the proceedings yesterday could take place virtually because “In the unusual circumstances that have prevailed by reason of the coronavirus, His Grace, having the conduct of the Court within his discretion, has directed that the proceedings will take place through a video conferencing facility”. Could we explore what legal steps or changes would be necessary to enable the elections of PCC members and churchwardens through virtual media? I am a churchwarden and whilst I have no desire to step down at this time, my fellow warden was expecting to do so in April after six years but is kindly carrying on till we can hold the APCM, probably in October.

    • Elections of churchwardens are a bit of a problem. Electing the PCC is easier, because the members are elected by those on the electoral roll – but any resident of the parish who is entered on the register of local government electors is entitled to vote in the election of churchwardens: Rule 5(1), Church Representation Rules.

      I very much doubt if very many non-members of a congregation would ever pitch up to vote in the election of churchwardens (I wouldn’t dream of doing so myself – it would be rather rude) but I don’t see how you can get round the legal principle. A Zoom meeting, even in a village parish like ours with a total population of about 1,500, would be very difficult to arrange. And what about those who don’t do IT?

  2. Thanks. Indeed that is the practical and legal problem. Do we know why the electorate for the churchwardens the local government register of electors? And if changing that to, say the church electoral roll were to be done, by amending Rule 5(1), are there any other impediments to holding the vestry meeting and APCM virtually – technology aside?

    • I assume it’s because churchwardens were originally secular as well as ecclesiastical officers of the parish. But whatever the historical reason, that is the current law, and to change it would require amending legislation in Synod – which isn’t likely to happen, given the current situation.

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