The sluggish delinquency of the Crown Nominations Commission
Guildford has been without a bishop now for more than a year: since 28th March 2013, to be precise, when the Rt Rev'd Christopher Hill retired and created a vacancy-in-see. Discerning bishops is a very slow process. The diocese has to form a vacancy-in-see committee, which then has to elect six representatives to join the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), which then has to agree dates to sit over protracted weeks to meet in secret to sift the candidates. And when you consider that the CNC includes the two Archbishops and six members of the General Synod (three clergy and three lay), the process of coinciding diary dates is fraught with complexities (as is maintaining secrecy).
Two names are typically put forward to the Prime Minister, one of which is preferred, and (usually) appointed by the Supreme Governor. As His Grace has previously observed, it is an absurdly bureaucratic process which cries out for reform.
There was a debate yesterday in the House of Lords (Hansard) concerning the snail's-pace tendency of the Crown Nominations Committee in appointing bishops to vacant sees. It is almost comical in its observations of ineptitude and inadequacy:
Thursday, 3 July 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.
Bishop of Guildford: AppointmentThe debate moves comically from the matter of the vacancy, through the beauty of Surrey, to fracking, to disestablishment, to the greater incompetence of the Roman Catholic Church and finally to the naming of a Royal Navy carrier.
Tabled by Lord Trefgarne
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Prime Minister is yet in a position to make a recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen in respect of a new Bishop for Guildford.
Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD): My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, the Crown Nominations Commission had its first meeting in early June and will have its second meeting on 21 and 22 July. The Prime Minister awaits the nomination from the Crown Nominations Commission and will then make a recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen, with the hope of an announcement in September.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: I thank my noble friend for his reply, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will. I mention my having just completed the lengthy but very successful process of choosing a new dean for Ripon Cathedral, in a new and vast super-diocese. Will my noble friend consider sitting down with the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments and the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, both of whom do a magnificent job with very few resources, and perhaps with others who have been through this long and involved process, to review and come back with some proposals to streamline that process? Alternatively, should the church be free to appoint its own bishops? I declare an interest as high steward of Ripon Cathedral.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, because of the age profile of the current House of Bishops, I understand that a number of vacancies and some retirements are coming along. I know that the most reverend Primate is conscious of this. The last time this was considered in 2008, the previous Government brought forward some changes to the appointments process. This Government do not have any proposals to change any further but I am sure that these matters ought to be borne in mind.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a slightly broader question about public appointments which have been held up. Is he aware that since last Monday, the Science Museum Group—I declare an interest as a trustee—has been without a chairman, even though the process to reappoint the excellent Dr Douglas Gurr started as long ago as last summer? Numerous other appointments are awaiting decisions from the Cabinet Office or 10 Downing Street, of which the Science Museum is perhaps the most blatant example at the moment.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I very much take the noble Lord’s point. Leadership in all institutions and bodies is very important and I will take that back. Again, I am very mindful of the point that the noble Lord is making.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, would the Minister find it helpful if the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was made aware of the concern of the House about there being sufficient meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission, so that when there is a pile-up of episcopal vacancies, as it were, there are sufficient meetings to address that? Is the Minister also aware that we very much hope to have legislation by the end of this year so that women can become bishops?
Noble Lords: Hear, hear!
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: They would therefore be eligible, and much overdue, to come into this House.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, what the right reverend Prelate said last is of great importance not only in this House but to the nation as a whole. I wish the deliberations of the General Synod extremely well. I know that when we had a previous exchange the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was going to be made aware of some of the concerns, and it would be extremely helpful if a record of our discussions today were made known to him.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): I shall ask a slightly narrower question than the Question on the Order Paper. Is the Minister aware that Guildford is a lovely place and that the cathedral at the centre is superbly sited, although it is in need of funds for repairs? Does he agree that there ought to be a whole raft of people eager to serve in this great role as bishop of Guildford? I hope there is an excellent range of candidates, one of whom will soon be appointed.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I agree with my noble friend. I hope the appointment will be made soon. It is very important that dioceses have bishops at the helm. I am aware that Guildford is in a very beautiful county, the most wooded county in the country. It is a fine place.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, is Guildford a suitable place for fracking?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I am sure that when the new bishop arrives he—or perhaps, if it is some time, she—will consider these things. The important thing is that we need an energy mix in this country. Fracking could well provide that. Clearly it needs to be done carefully and sensitively, but we should not pass this opportunity.
Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, I expect that the winds of change will blow through the Anglican Church later this month. Will the Minister outline whether the Government will take this opportunity to look at the selection process for appointments in slightly more detail? Previously, I lived in the north-west of England for nine years. Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington, Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley, Preston and Lancashire are not currently on the Benches of the Lords spiritual but, as of right, Winchester is. That diocese includes the Channel Islands, which are not in the United Kingdom. Is it not time that we had a system of appointment that saw our metropolitan cities represented as of right?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I can safely say that much of this is a matter for the church. There is legislation going back to the 19th century on these matters. At some point perhaps that might be looked at.
Lord Morgan (Lab): My Lords, would it not be desirable if the Prime Minister made no suggestion about appointing the Bishop of Guildford, as would be the case with the disestablished Church in Wales? Would that not greatly liberate the church as an independent body free from the trammels of state interference?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I am not sure that I am inclined to that view. Obviously the Church in Wales and the Church of England have taken different paths. That is a matter for the Church of England.
Lord Deben (Con): My Lords, we should be careful because the Church of Rome appoints its own bishops and takes a great deal longer than the Church of England, which is itself very dilatory. Changes do not necessarily speed up the system.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I am a great believer that if one does not want too much change, one should have some change.
Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, the House is not sitting tomorrow. There was mention of Her Majesty. Tomorrow, Her Majesty is naming the first fleet carrier to have been built since the Second World War. It is the work of 10,000 men and women around our country—a masterpiece of engineering. Would the Minister like to acknowledge and welcome this marvellous event tomorrow?
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the whole nation is extremely fortunate to have a head of state who works so hard on our behalf.
There is a hope of an announcement in September. A vacancy of a year-and-a-half and only a hope of an announcement? And a "pile-up of episcopal vacancies" is imminent?
There was deadlock over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury to succeed Rowan Williams, but still no reforms were proposed to resolve the incompetence. If a diocese can do without a bishop for two years, why does it need one at all? Has anyone in Guildford really noticed? Has ministry suffered? Is Christian witness impaired?
His Grace has said this before, but in the appointment of bishops it is time to let democracy flow like a river. It is unacceptable that the Church of England should sustain the facade of democracy through secretive committees of the elite who then introduce additional members to ‘improve’ the representative character of that committee.
Give churchgoers the vote. It might not stem the decline, but it would reinvigorate communion and the processes of participation. His Grace is aware that churchgoers are not the same as parishioners, and that this has implications for the nature of establishment, but a degree of democratic accountability would compel bishops and archbishops to focus on ministering to their sheep, instead of chasing after the Guardian-reading goats and indulging disproportionately in Thought-for-the-Day sound-bites on relatively trivial matters of gender, sexuality and fracking.
The only way of repairing the gulf that has grown between the laity and the episcopacy is for the latter to be made more accountable to the former and that means being more in communion. We are not talking about a ballot box at the altar, but of creating an inspirational culture of active participation which renders the episcopacy accountable to the clergy and both more accountable to the laity who are all accountable to God corporately.
Never again must we have a committee which is deadlocked leaving ordinary Anglicans to #prayfortheCNC (which leaves the majority twiddling their thumbs). If the Archbishop of Wales can be elected by an electoral college; if the Pope of Rome can be elected by a Conclave of cardinals; if the Pope of Alexandria can be shortlisted by 2,000 ordinary members of the Coptic Church of Egypt (and the final one selected by a child), it is utterly reasonable (not to say a procedurally imperative) for the bishops and archbishops of the Church of England to be democratically elected.
This would have the effect of binding the laity closer to the clergy and the episcopacy. As democratic politicians know, when the grassroots are involved, they feel valued. When they feel valued, they work better. It’s just love in action, you see. When you ask Anglicans to pray for a secret committee meeting at a secret location, they are blind and directionless, like sheep without a shepherd. When they know for whom they are praying and why, they discern wisely and respond to the shepherd’s voice (or, if necessary, the sheepdog’s growl).
His Grace knows that this ‘modernisation’ won’t go down too well in some corners. But the Early Church upheld the principle of Vox Populi, Vox Dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God. One can better lead a divided church when one is both gifted by God and empowered by God’s people to lead it.