Saturday, 20 January 2018

Discerning in Obedience: the Crown Nominations Commission

On the afternoon of Thursday 8 February, the synod will hear a presentation about GS Misc 1171 and this will be followed by a “Take Note” debate. An hour and a half has been allocated for these items:
Discerning in Obedience: A theological review of the Crown Nominations Commission.

This is the report of the theological review group set up in Autumn 2016 under the chairmanship of Professor Oliver O’Donovan, and which concluded its work in Autumn 2017. An interim report of its work was delivered at the July 2017 meeting of synod.

The report itself is 40 pages long and should undoubtedly be read in full. It is of a quality far superior to all recent Church of England reports.

The full membership of the group was:
- The Revd Professor Sarah Coakley - Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge;
- Professor Tom Greggs - Marischal Professor of Divinity, University of Aberdeen;
- The Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon - Secretary General of the Anglican Communion;
- The Revd Professor Morwenna Ludlow - Professor of Christian History and Theology, University of Exeter;
- The Revd Professor Oliver O’Donovan FBA (chair) - Emeritus Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Edinburgh, Honorary Professor of Divinity, University of St Andrews;
- Father Thomas Seville CR - Faith and Order Commission;
- The Revd Dr Jennifer Strawbridge - Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Oxford;
- The Revd Canon Dr James Walters - Chaplain and Senior Lecturer, London School of Economics

There is another document which has been published to accompany this debate, GS 2080, with the same title. This sets out the background to the report, and lists a series of proposed actions by which the recommendations should be progressed. (This section is copied below the fold.) It is then followed by an annex of 11 pages of tables which list out, not only all the recommendations of this report, but also all the CNC-related recommendations of the report by Sir Philip Mawer, the Independent Reviewer, on the Review of Nomination to the See of Sheffield and Related Concerns.

Progressing the reflections and recommendations
11. It is proposed to progress work through a number of existing bodies. In addition, the Archbishops will, in consultation with the Appointments Committee, establish a small oversight group to monitor the progress on the discussion and implementation of recommendations. This group will report back to General Synod, starting in July. This structure will allow improvements to current processes to progress whilst proposals requiring wider consideration can be addressed over a longer timescale. In addition, the theological reflections set out in the report will provide the underpinning for the longer-term work.

12. Archbishops and Central Members to

  • Review proposals about changes to the culture and operation of the CNC and Vacancy in See Process not requiring Standing Order changes and which can be introduced on an ongoing basis. This will enable the introduction of some of the recommendations over the next few months - indeed some are already in place; and
  • Report to General Synod in July 2017 following the meeting of central members in March 2017. [presumably typographical errors: should be in 2018]

13. The Secretary General of the Archbishops Council to be invited to

  • Liaise with the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion and the Diocese of Canterbury in relation to exploring proposals in relation to the nomination to the See of Canterbury following which the Archbishops Council to develop recommendations for consideration by General Synod for this See (and also for the See of Dover) and to report back to General Synod when this work is completed.

14. The Appointments Committee to be invited to set up a working group to

  • Review the process for election of Central Members to the Crown Nominations Commission and diocesan representatives to the Vacancy in See Committee to report to General Synod in 2019.

15. The House of Bishops, through the Development and Appointments Group, to be invited to

  • Reflect on the nature of episcopacy in the light of Section 3 of the report “Discerning in Obedience: A Theological Review of the Crown Nominations Commission”, learning from the Leadership Programmes they have participated in and aspirations as set out in nominations processes; and
  • Reflect on the purpose, nature and management of the Strategic Development Programme and Episcopal Lists.

16. The Standing Orders Committee to be invited to

  • Consider the proposed changes to Standing Orders following consultation with the central members of the Crown Nominations Commission. Changes would be progressed and discussed through General Synod in the normal way.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 20 January 2018 at 11:45am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Interesting. Footnote 12 references a report I made to the CNC on electoral procedures. That report has never been published. As it is part of the evidence base used by O'Donovan and colleagues, I hope that a Synod member will ask to see it. It would not be for me to publish without the agreement of the CNC.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Saturday, 20 January 2018 at 4:42pm GMT

“Footnote 12 references a report I made to the CNC on electoral procedures”

Ian McLean’s report (dated July 2014) is helpful. I will make some inquiries as to its status.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Saturday, 20 January 2018 at 9:49pm GMT

This is an example in action of the immunity of the Church of England from Freedom of Information legislation. The Established Church isn’t a public body. Alice in Wonderland would be proud.

Posted by: Bernard Silverman on Saturday, 20 January 2018 at 10:29pm GMT

Oh dear, a missed opportunity! So, it looks like the ABC will continue to make the C of E in his (soon to be her) image and likeness!

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 21 January 2018 at 1:01pm GMT

You have to love the good old Church of England. The report claims that an appointment rests on discernment. The report also attempts to define discernment but sort of misses the key point: discernment = trusting God.

And it is clear from this report that, when it comes to choosing bishops, the Church of England does not trust God. Anyone who might be undesirable to the existing bishops is screened out at outset through the mechanism of lists. Then the report goes on to describe the qualities a bishop should have so that the CNC can evaluate candidates. There might be an element of prayer but at the most this is discernment-lite, not full discernment, not a full trusting of God, in fact to my mind not really discernment at all.

Does discernment work? Well we seem to have no openly gay Bishop, other than the celibate Bishop of Grantham, and few from ethnic minorities. And - it goes without saying - none who have lived in more than one gender role. So is God a homophobic, transphobic racist? Or does the CNC not really practice discernment - or do the bishops prevent true discernment?

I am sure there are TA contributors who have a first-hand experience of true discernment or guidance. It is certainly possible; however the results can be surprising, challenging - even shocking - if one lets go and trusts God. And this report outlines something which is really the opposite of letting go. God is included in the process, undoubtedly, but little more than the Prime Minister used to be. God is allowed to gently nudge people to select His preferred candidate from a shortlist provided to Him - but he doesn't even get a free choice from the shortlist. The CNC does that based on their understanding of what is desirable in a bishop.

I sometimes despair of how weak a relationship the Church seems to have with God. So much is written on why church attendance is falling but, for me, this report explains why: when it comes to decisions, God is not at the centre of the Church of England and the Church wants to keep it that way.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 22 January 2018 at 9:13am GMT

I can't quite go along with Fr David on this one. This is a rigorous report and, for my money, three things stand out: (a) that it was felt necessary to comment on the role of Caroline Boddington - both as Secretary to the Report as well as her role in the nominations process; (b) the overall concern about the generally poor quality of public espicopal pronouncements, especially in the House of Lords, and the impact this is having on perceptions of the Church in wider society; and (c) the observation that 'the CNC may opt for the false unity offered by candidates who are merely bland and inoffensive' - a perfect description of the outcome of the London nomination, I thought.

I wonder if we will see a repeat of the Carlile report that, having commissioned it, the Archbishop of Canterbury will reject some of its key findings. I bet that won't happen with the Cathedrals report, though!

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Monday, 22 January 2018 at 11:16am GMT

Kate I think you are missing something. For me the stress on trusting in God and looking beyond human processes is one of the significant stresses in this report. Two examples ... the CNC 'must approach their task expecting to be shown something ... To think ahead about what will be needed to review a few possible names .... but at that point the work of searching for God’s will has still hardly begun' ... 'Discernment involves a step of faith enabling us to conceive something that God will bring about, which is not yet objectively visible.' This gives me hope.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Monday, 22 January 2018 at 5:09pm GMT

This body's part in the disastrous appointment to London alone makes a good case for all the existing members to be sacked.

Posted by: Ken Powell on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 2:02pm GMT
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