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how to choose your church leader

Breaking News: Bishop Justin Welby to be next Archbishop of Canterbury.

The video shows the end of a process for choosing the new pope of Egypt’s Coptic Christians, becoming leader of the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. Three names were chosen in a ballot by a council of some 2,400 Church and community officials in October. Their names were written on pieces of paper and put in crystal balls sealed with wax on the church altar. Strict measures were in place to make sure there was no foul play during the televised ceremony: the three pieces of paper with candidates’ names were all the same size and tied the same way. A blindfolded boy, one of 12 shortlisted children, then drew out the name of Bishop Tawadros.

Cf Acts 1:15-26:

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’ (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms,
“Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it”;
“Let another take his position of overseer.”
So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Cf. the Church of England method for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is appointed by the Queen. The responsibility for nominating the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). There are 16 members. They need a two-thirds majority (11) for a name. They present two names to the Prime Minister. Since 2007 the agreed convention is that the Prime Minister commends the first name to the Queen. The second name is there in case, for whatever reason, there is a change of circumstances which means that the appointment of the CNC’s recommended candidate cannot proceed. Each of the two names receives two-thirds (11) votes. Then there is a second vote, by simple majority, which name is the first name.

After the Queen receives the name from the Prime Minister she passes it to the Canterbury’s College of Canons. They meet to “elect” the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about this:

The King sends the Dean and Canons a congé d’élire, or leave to elect, but also sends them the name of the person whom they are to elect. They go into the Cathedral, chant and pray; and after these invocations invariably find that the dictates of the Holy Ghost agree with the recommendation of the King [Emerson, English Traits, XIII, 1856]

Rumour was that Bishop Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, has passed the votes needed as first name the CNC has agreed on, but that the CNC got stuck on who the second name will be. Having the second name pass the 11 threshold, as I mentioned, they then vote which of the two names is first. That seems, from my Mathematical background, to be surprisingly complicating, especially as, since 2007, the second name has, effectively, become redundant!

I think consideration should be given to changing to the Biblical/Coptic model.

Also it now appears that the way that it is announced in England who will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury is not by smoke (Roman Catholic), or accompanied by prayer in a cathedral (Coptic), but by the bookies. Ladbrokes closed the book on Canterbury after a flurry of substantial bets on Bishop Justin Welby were placed in a few hours.

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13 thoughts on “how to choose your church leader”

  1. As you know, I always look for the biblical solution, so something involving chance in selection of apostles or their successors seems right and proper. What if the two names for ABC became straws of differing lengths. Should the PM or the Queen be the one to choose which straw?

      1. Christopher John Brownbridge

        The PM already chooses by way of delegated roral powers. Earlier monarchs couldn’t be bothered.

  2. The election of the Coptic Pope is not only scriptural, it involves real Christian choice ( not upper class agnostic suggestion ) and above all it shows faith in the Holy Spirit. If you find me an Anglican bishop who would support such a method I’d be amazed. The Coptic example reminds us of what orthodoxy is about. We kicked orthodoxy out of the treasure house of our Faith years ago. Still, ++ Justin is in my prayers, may the Holy Spirit keep his faith true to the teaching of the Apostles.

  3. Isn’t it supposed to be poignant that the very last time in scripture that lots were used is right before Pentecost. I always thought (and was taught) that the Spirit’s indwelling was supposed to eliminate the need for lots. They didn’t appear to use this method when choosing the Seven in Acts 6 (and I find it VERY interesting that God expands the ministry of at least 2 of the Seven, beyond the remit the apostles gave them).

    I do know some theologians (although I think they are being a bit harsh on the Eleven AND poor old Matthias and blinkered by apostolic reputation), believe that God’s choice was Paul and that the 11 should have waited.

    As for Peter’s comment… it sickens me enough that Parliament gets involved in the selection process at all… so may God forbid the Prime minister ever got to make the final choice… randomly or otherwise.

    1. Thanks, Nick. It appears, following your points, that the giving of the Spirit at John 20:22 was insufficient? I’ve never heard the “wait for Paul” position – he does not fit Luke’s criteria for being an apostle. And, as far as I know, the Prime Minister choosing the second name is not unknown – and, hence, its removal from the new “convention”. Blessings.

      1. I don’t agree with the “Wait for Paul” thing either… just something I’ve heard people talk about.

        I guess it depends on how you interpret John 20:22 is it a prophetic foreshadowing or the moment of imparting.

        It could also be both – The John verse being not unlike the moment a seed is planted, quietly growing until the Acts moment the point at which the plant flourishes and the fruit becomes evident. Actually I think that sits well with me.

        I know Blair used to jealously guard the Prime Ministerial privilege that afforded him the ability to move candidates who suited his philosophy – dangerous (especially as I think he had religiously pluralistic views). Whatever David Cameron’s religious views are I’m not entirely sure… but I’m a bit suspicious about them because he referred to Jesus in the past tense implying that he doesn’t think Jesus is a living being.

        These points are somewhat moot though – it’s inappropriate for any Prime minister to get involved in the process… in a diverse society, what happens if a devout atheist or follower of another religious group inherited such a power and saw fit to employ it to further their agenda?

  4. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. Why not through the bookies? 😉 Will we know the name of No.2 if all is well with the first choice?

    Seriously, England should find a better way.

    June Butler

    1. I imagine, June, that with the integrity of the arcane secrecy broken by someone wanting to make an extra buck (sorry – pound), there must be some way to ascertain #2 for those interested. But, contrariwise, if there’s no money in it – maybe you and I shall never know. I can survive fine without this knowledge. Blessings.

  5. Not being an Anglican, I claim absolute ignorance as to the election process. I also assume that your synopsis is vastly abbreviated. Nominated by a really small committee (Crown nominations committee), appointed by the queen, and then ‘elected’ by the Canterbury College of Canons. How does the 21st century Anglican church feel about this method of election? How does the CNC decide who to nominate?

    1. “How does the CNC decide who to nominate?” is something I’d be interested in hearing too… what happens afterwards is window-dressing, surely – arcane with a hint of Python; formality and show compared with the crucial process of coming up with that short list (although an echo of something that was important centuries ago).

      There is a lot on the Internet about the make-up of the committee and what happens afterwards, and complaints of secrecy (or is it just confidentiality?) in the process, but I don’t see anything on how they decide. I suspect the CNC process is very similar to nominations at a parish and diocesan level, but with more pressure heaped on? Are there any examples from denominations other than those mentioned already that offer benefits? It sounds like there should be a better method.

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