The Crown Nominations Commission begins their work of choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury next week. Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, summarizes the process including a run-down of possible candidates and what's ahead for the next Archbishop.
Next Wednesday, four women and 15 men on the Crown Nominations Commission will gather for two days of prayer and horsetrading to replace Rowan Williams as archbishop of Canterbury. We know who they are, and when they will meet – but not where, so they can't be doorstepped.
Only three members of the commission, chaired by the former Conservative arts minister Lord Luce, are bishops. One of the women and two of the men have no vote, but are there to advise. Five, including one of the women, are priests. The rest are lay people. Almost all the parties of the church are represented and there is even Dr Barry Morgan, a Welshman, to represent the rest of the world for the first time in this process. They will pick two names to present to the prime minister, who is bound to choose the first, unless he proves unable to take the job.
The man they choose will have at least five jobs at once in his new post, and very little power in any of them. He is a bishop in Kent. He sits in the House of Lords. He chairs meetings of the bishops of all England. In some very nebulous sense he is also the leader of the Anglican communion, a worldwide body with no agreed doctrine and no discipline, which has rejected all attempts to supply it with either. If the Queen dies, he will crown her successor. When the nation requires religious pageantry, he must supply it and star in it.
Brown reviews how the conventional wisdom has changed about the front-runners. For example, a year ago most people were betting on John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, or Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, as the most likely choices. Today, not so much.
Whoever is chosen, the big issues will not go away:
Whoever he is, the next archbishop will face other large problems, even though the issue of female bishops will probably not be among them. It looks as if a form of words has been agreed which both supporters and opponents can accept, so that the first will be consecrated next year.
The struggle over gay clergy will continue for the foreseeable future. Opinion within congregations is slowly shifting as it has shifted in the outside world. But the long stalemate, punctuated by vicious little skirmishes, can only be expected to continue.
There is the slow international fissioning of the Anglican communion, where conservative Africans and Asians have been trying for years to throw out the more liberal churches of North America, with the Church of England caught uneasily between factions. It's difficult to see any compromise there except the peace of exhaustion.