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Outline of procedures for appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury


See also: Role of Archbishop of Canterbury
Questions and answers


The responsibility for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). Its task is to submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minster who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen. 

The membership of the CNC is prescribed in the Standing Orders of the General Synod. When an Archbishop of Canterbury is to be chosen there are 16 voting members

-          The Chair (a lay person) - to be appointed by the Prime Minister

-          A bishop - to be elected by the House of Bishops

-          The Archbishop of York or, if he chooses not to be a member of the CNC, a further Bishop to be elected by the House of Bishops

-          Six representatives elected from the Diocese of Canterbury by their Vacancy in See Committee

-          The six representatives (three clergy and three lay) elected by General Synod to serve as members of the Commission for a five year period

-          A member of the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion elected by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

In addition, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Prime Minister's Appointments Secretary and the Archbishops' Secretary for Appointments are non-voting members of the Commission.

Before the Commission first meets there will be an extensive consultation process to determine the needs of the diocese, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. This has several phases:

-          The diocesan Vacancy in See Committee will prepare a brief description of the diocese and a statement setting out the desired profile of the new Archbishop

-          The Prime Minister's and Archbishops' Secretaries for Appointments will conduct a wider consultation exercise to inform the Commission's consideration of the needs of the mission of the wider Church of England and the Anglican Communion. 

The expectation is that the Commission will have an initial meeting around the end of May to agree its process, which is likely to continue over the summer. The number of meetings will be for the Commission to determine. The process will among other things include:

-          Review of background material and results of the consultations, discussion of the challenges for the next Archbishop and, in the light of these, consideration of the personal qualities required  

-          Consideration of candidates

-          Voting to identify the recommended candidate and a second appointable candidate, whose names will go forward to the Prime Minister.

Since 2007 the agreed convention in relation to episcopal appointments has been that the Prime Minister commends the name preferred by the Commission to the Queen. The second name is identified in case, for whatever reason, there is a change of circumstances which means that the appointment of the CNC's recommended candidate cannot proceed.

Once the Queen has approved the chosen candidate and he has indicated a willingness to serve, 10 Downing St will announce the name of the Archbishop-designate.

The College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral formally elect the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The election is confirmed by a commission of diocesan bishops in a legal ceremony (the Confirmation of Election), which confers the office of Archbishop on him.

The new Archbishop does homage to Her Majesty.

The new Archbishop is formally enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral.   

Further details on the nomination process for Diocesan Bishops can be found here.

This includes the particular arrangements made for the See of Canterbury.


There are six principal aspects to the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

1.            The Archbishop is the Bishop of the Canterbury Diocese. He has delegated much of his responsibility for the diocese to the Bishop of Dover, who leads a senior staff team of the Dean, three Archdeacons and the Diocesan Secretary. The Archbishop continues to take a keen interest in the affairs of the diocese, attend staff and other meetings, the annual residential staff meeting, and the Archbishop's Council of the diocese when possible.


2.            The Archbishop of Canterbury is also a Metropolitan, having metropolitical jurisdiction throughout the 30 dioceses of the Province of Canterbury. As such, he can conduct formal visitations of those dioceses when necessary. Establishing close links with bishops in his Province is an important part of his work and he visits three dioceses each year. It is a Metropolitan's responsibility to act as chief consecrator at the consecration of new bishops, grant various permissions, licences and faculties, appoint to parishes where the patron has failed to do so within the prescribed time limits, act as Visitor of various institutions and release, where appropriate, those who have taken religious vows.  He and the Archbishop of York are joint Presidents of the General Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury is Chairman and the Archbishop of York Vice-Chairman of the House of Bishops and the Crown Nominations Commission. Two Provincial Episcopal Visitors report to the Archbishop in relation to the 163 parishes in the southern province which have petitioned for extended episcopal care under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.

3.            As leader of the 'Church by Law Established' the Archbishop, in his capacity as Primate of All England, is 'chaplain to the nation', classically exemplified at a coronation. More routinely he has regular audiences with the Queen and the Prime Minister, and is frequently in touch with senior Ministers of State and with the Leaders of Opposition Parties. In addition, both Archbishops and 24 other senior bishops have seats in the House of Lords. 

4.            The Archbishop is the Focus of Unity for the Anglican Communion. He is convener and host of the Lambeth Conference, President of the Anglican Consultative Council, and Chair of the Primates' meeting. In these roles he travels extensively throughout the Anglican Communion, visiting provinces and dioceses, and supporting and encouraging the witness of the Church in very diverse contexts. As primus inter pares among the bishops, he has a special concern for those in episcopal ministry.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is, along with the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch, widely regarded as an international spiritual leader, representing the Christian Church. On overseas visits, a meeting with the Head of State is almost always a part of the programme, as are meetings with other significant political persons.

5.            The Archbishop has a national and international ecumenical role; nationally he is one of the Presidents of Churches Together in England, who provide strategic guidance to ecumenical endeavours.

6.            The Archbishop takes the lead in relationships with members of other faith communities both in this country and overseas, reflecting the increasing significance of those communities for the context in which the Church's mission and ministry take place. 


Questions and answers

How does the Prime Minister select the Chair of the Commission?

The person must be an actual communicant lay member of the Church of England. The Prime Minister may consult such persons as he thinks fit before making the appointment. He is likely to be looking for someone who will command the confidence of the Church and the public, has a good understanding of the Church, good chairmanship skills, insight and excellent judgment.

Given that the current central membership of the CNC expires at the end of July, will they or subsequent central membership consider the vacancy?

Standing Order 122 (e)(iv) provides that once the CNC has begun its work in relation to a particular vacancy in see the elected central members see the process through to its conclusion even if it is not completed until after the end of their terms of office. This Commission will have started its work on the Canterbury vacancy some time before the end of July, so the responsibility will fall to the existing six central members.

Who are the current members of the Crown Nominations Commission elected from General Synod?

From the House of Laity:

Professor Glynn Harrison - Diocese of Bristol

Mrs Mary Johnston - Diocese of London

Mr Aiden Hargreaves-Smith - Diocese of London

From the House of Clergy:

The Very Revd Andrew Nunn - Diocese of Southwark

The Revd Canon Peter Spiers - Diocese of Liverpool

The Revd Canon Glyn Webster - Diocese of York

Who will be consulted in the "extensive consultation" process? 

An announcement will be made in the church press inviting people to write in with comments on the challenges of the role. In addition, the Appointments Secretaries will consult with a wide variety of people from church and public life including senior church representatives, representatives from other Christian denominations and  representatives from the Anglican Communion. Senior figures in other faiths, the secular world and the life of the nation will also be invited to comment in the light of the national significance of the role of the Archbishop.

Will the results of the consultations be made public?

The work of the Appointments Secretaries remains confidential to the Commission and will inform their deliberations and consideration of candidates. The Vacancy in See Committee of the Diocese of Canterbury may choose whether or not to make their Diocesan Statement of Needs public.

What is the election process for the primate chosen by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion?

It will be for the Anglican Communion Office to arrange this under the oversight of the Chair of the Standing Committee of the Communion (The Rt Revd James Tengatenga from the Province of Central Africa). This will be the first time that a primate from the Communion has been a member of a CNC (though the Secretary General of the Communion was already a non-voting member). 

How do people become candidates? Do they need to apply?

Candidates for consideration are suggested by members of the Commission. There will be an announcement in the church press which will invite members of the public to submit the names of possible candidates and this is made available to members of the Commission. Names of possible candidates are also collected during the consultation process. Candidates are not expected to apply.

Will candidates be interviewed?

Since 2010 CNCs have been piloting the use of interviews as part of the discernment process for the nomination of bishops and have found it a welcome addition to the discernment process.

How long will the process take?

The process is starting straightaway so that the new Archbishop can be in office as soon as possible after the see becomes vacant at the end of the year. The hope is that an announcement will be possible in the autumn.

During any interregnum who will "hold the fort" in i) the Church of England ii) the Southern Province iii) the Diocese of Canterbury iv) the Anglican Communion?

 The present Archbishop of Canterbury will be continuing to carry out all his responsibilities until the end of 2012. During any short interregnum thereafter, the Archbishop's responsibilities in relation to the Church of England would fall to be exercised by the Archbishop of York and in relation to the Diocese of Canterbury by the Bishop of Dover. The Archbishop's responsibilities in the Southern Province would be exercised in a variety of ways depending on the function. It would be for the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion and the Chair of its Standing Committee to decide how any Anglican Communion business that could not await the arrival of the new Archbishop should be handled. 

Are all bishops from within the Anglican Communion eligible for consideration as the next Archbishop of Canterbury?

Since the Archbishop of Canterbury is automatically a member of the House of Lords he must, under the law of the land be a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen. The person chosen will be someone whom the CNC considers to be best able to fulfil the full range of responsibilities of the role, which, in addition to those concerning the Anglican Communion include being Primate of All England, Metropolitan for the Southern province and Diocesan Bishop of Canterbury. There is, however, no rule which limits the CNC to choosing someone who is currently holding an office in the Church of England. Indeed Archbishop Rowan was serving in another province of the Communion when nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Could the next Archbishop of Canterbury be female if the women bishops legislation passes in July?

The next Archbishop will be male, whatever happens in Synod this July. Even if the legislation secures final approval then there are several further steps that will have to occur before it can come into force. It will be late 2013 or early 2014 before it is possible for women to be appointed as bishops in the Church of England.

Will the Archbishop be made a life peer on retirement?

That is a matter for the Prime Minister.

Is the Archbishop leaving now so that he can speak out more freely once liberated from the responsibilities of office?

He is leaving to take up an important academic role, which will also give him more time than he currently has to write, as one of the current generation's major theologians. Throughout his term of office the Archbishop has, however, continued to speak and write freely on a wide range of subjects.

How does he feel stepping down at this difficult stage in the discussions on i) the Covenant and ii) Women Bishops?

There is never an ideal moment to move on but by the end of this year the Archbishop will have been a bishop for more than 20 years and an Archbishop for more than thirteen years as well having held his present office for a decade.