Thinking Anglicans

CNC fails to fill Oxford vacancy

The Crown Nominations Commission held its second meeting to consider the vacancy in the see of Oxford on Monday and Tuesday of this week (11 and 12 May) but failed to make a decision. The Archbishop of Canterbury has today issued this statement:

From the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Diocese of Oxford

Vacancy in the See of Oxford

An update from the Archbishop of Canterbury – Chair of the Crown Nominations Commission

You will be aware that the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) met on the 11th and 12th May to consider the nomination of the next Bishop of Oxford and to meet with possible candidates.

I am writing to advise that the Commission has been unable to discern the candidate whom God is calling at this stage to be the next Bishop of Oxford. Under the election rules under which we operate, in a secret ballot no candidate received the required number of votes for nomination.

Although the CNC has a number of meetings scheduled for later this year they are reserved for the consideration of other Dioceses. It is unfortunately impossible to add further demands on the time of the voluntary members of the CNC, who have their own jobs as well. The Oxford CNC will therefore reconvene on the 4th February 2016 with the second meeting on the 7th/8th March 2016. Bishop Colin will continue to provide oversight to the diocese as he has done over the past few months during the interregnum and I am very grateful to him for this.

Many of you will have had the CNC in your prayers and I thank you for them. I will continue to keep the diocese in my prayers over the next months. This will not be the news that you wanted to hear but please take this as a sign of the CNC’s commitment to finding the right person to be your next bishop.

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby


  • Pluralist says:

    Perhaps God isn’t calling one, rather than the folks not knowing which one God is calling. God must be fed up.

  • DBD says:

    This is the second time this has happened in recent memory. What is going wrong? How do we fix it?

  • peterpi - Peter Gross says:

    I assume this happens occasionally, but does anyone know how often it happens?
    Is Bishop Colin now providing episcopal pastorship for two dioceses? His appointed one and Oxford?
    Is Oxford a bone for both the liberal wing and the conservative wing of the CofE to fight over?

  • Susan Cooper says:

    Actually it is the third time in a three years, and I don’t remember it happening at any other time over the last 15 years while I have been on GS).

    The first time was to do with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s appointment when the story that I heard was that the first name was agreed on but the second name caused a problem. Then it happened a year ago for Hereford and now for Oxford.

    Colin Fletcher is an Area bishop looking after part of the diocese and at the moment taking the overall oversight as well. There are other Area bishops in the diocese.

    I concur with the idea of a fight over a bone or as I wrote on Facebook, that the Holy Spirit is whispering different things in different ears.

  • Maybe, just maybe, God is waiting for Jeffrey John to become the sole nomination. This might help the Church of England to right some past wrongs.

  • linda woodhead says:

    Poor candidates.

  • linda woodhead says:

    It’s surely the result of the way the CofE thinks a properly representative sample = one spokesperson for every minority position however tiny the minority. Thus CNC now has at least 2 lay reps who are anti women (Daley, Giddings). This approach results in the continuous domination of the majority position in CofE by minorities who shout louder.

  • Turbulent priest says:

    A very serious governance failure. There are multiple implications.

    1. The diocese is simply too diverse for any candidate to get the necessary majority, because there is nobody who can be a “focus of unity” any more. Symptomatic of a much bigger problem for the whole Church of England.

    2. Are there too many bishops generally? If Bishop Colin is able to carry out the role for an extended period then either his original post is unnecessary or this one is. (It is truly scandalous if he’s being expected to work double hours, and given how hard bishops work anyway, unlikely there are enough hours in the day.) So extrapolating to all dioceses, why not simply abolish 25% of episcopal posts?

    3. There needs to be greater clarity about what a bishop is for. In a more “bottom up” model, dioceses could elect their bishops without the need for a top-heavy process where there is a large national contingent to every appointment committee. Or at the very least there could be a much lighter touch from the centre. But would the centre be prepared to take the risk of letting go….

    4. If this sort of thing starts happening at all often, it will raise further doubts in Parliament about whether the Church is competent to run its affairs or whether Parliament should intervene. If the people of Oxford Diocese need a bishop and the Church’s current structures are unable to find one for the Crown to appoint, then …

    There are other implications too, which will no doubt emerge on this thread.

  • Father David says:

    Hereford now Oxford, this didn’t used to happen before candidates for vacant diocese were subjected to a competitive interview process. In recent times two names were presented to the Prime Minister who chose either or – more often than not it was either I.e. the first choice preferred candidate. Going further back in time the Prime Minister after making soundings and receiving advice selected the candidate, as Macmillan did when he chose Ramsey, in what some regarded as undue haste, for Canterbury. Going even further back still Queen Victoria exercised enormous influence in the choice of bishops. Maybe it is time to return to an older system of selection and I for one would be quite happy for Victoria’s present day successor to become more involved in the process of selection. Elizabeth II, as Supreme Governor of the Church, has over the last 60 years and more garnered enormous wisdom and experience. She is currently onto her 12th Prime Minister and her 7th Archbishop of Canterbury. Who can claim better qualifications than that? Let the Defender of the Faith decide who are to be the future Guardians of the Faith to free us from the ridiculous new and already broken system of job interviews for vacant Diocesan bishoprics.

  • Anthony Archer says:

    It is idle to speculate, but I agree with Susan Cooper, the failure to appoint seems to be becoming a trend, with Canterbury, Hereford and now Oxford. As a former central member of the CNC (albeit for only two years – but with having experience of two other appointments – total 6), I contacted the Chairman of the Canterbury CNC in 2012 when it became clear that that appointment had run into difficulties. Lord Luce courteously replied (with some immediacy), being careful to maintain confidentiality, and concluded by saying that after the new Archbishop was consecrated I might be a suitable person to consult with about the process, but not being part of the Canterbury CNC itself I pointed out that it was hard to know what role I could serve. I am not privy to the new interviewing process. For a vacancy other than Canterbury and York where there are more members, there needs to be a two-thirds majority vote for a candidate to be nominated (General Synod SO 122 (f) (v)), which means that 10 votes out of 14 are required. In the event that that is not achieved, the CNC needs to continue to vote. It is self-evidently the case that if members do not change their vote the process becomes stuck. There may be a number of reasons why this is. The diocesan members might come with a preferred candidate that does not find favour with the central members (6 votes versus 8 votes – including the Presidents), or vice versa. Oxford is a distinctive diocese. It has a very strong and effective area scheme. Women will be in the mix for the first time. It is a prime diocese for a woman bishop, as any questions which may arise as to experience (in episcopal terms) are less relevant. It is a diocese that has experienced an evangelical diocesan bishop for seven years and might want to replicate that. It is a diocese that was bruised by the failed appointment of an area bishop to Reading in 2003. My question for those who might know is, why is it that the CNC now invites candidates for interview (a development I applaud) without first agreeing that it believes at that point that is able to make an appointment from among the short-listed interview group? It is wholly unacceptable for the process now to be held up for some 12 months, despite the understandable reason that CNC members cannot be summoned at a moment’s notice. A diocese other than Oxford would suffer. The fact that it has the most experienced area bishop in the CofE to run the show on an interim basis (yet again) is most fortunate. But this is no way to run a whelk stall.

  • JCF says:

    Is the leading candidate Jeffrey John, or Anybody-But-Jeffrey-John?

  • David Gibson says:

    My immediate reaction would be to ask whether Jeffrey John was a candidate (cf Exeter and St Edmundsbury). Interestingly, however, – and I’ve heard this reported by more than one person close to an ‘impeccable source’ right at the very top – there was an ‘excellent woman’ candidate whom the CNC appeared not to want.

    I say ‘Interesting’ given the big noise the Archbishop of Canterbury made at February’s General Synod about leaks and how he, John Sentamu and Ms Boddington, would be going after those who breached the CNC’s absolute confidentiality. Physician heal thyself!

  • Richard Franklin says:

    When I read this I thought, “This must be some kind of a joke, yea?” I knew my church was incompetent, but come on! Mind you I’ve always thought we had too many bishops. This is one way to keep the numbers down! I feel particularly sorry for Colin and the other suffragans – Oxford is a big, big diocese.

  • Father David says:

    As Philip Giddings is on the CNC’s Selection panel for the Oxford Diocesan vacancy. Alas, I very much doubt that Jeffrey John will get his vote. After all it was he who helped to scupper his appointment to Reading within the Oxford diocese. Unfortunately as JJ was unjustly and disgracefully deprived of the suffragan’s post it is unfortunate that in all probability he won’t be appointed as the Diocesan Bishop. This remains an unresolved scandal within the Church of England.

  • Philip Hobday says:

    Not being able to appoint at the first round is of course far from unusual, whether in church or ‘secular’ recruitment contexts. But what this DOES reveal is that the time taken to make appointments needs a serious review. I am very much in favour of nomination by panel rather than open election. But it is a serious worry that dioceses are being left without leadership for so long. And it’s unacceptably unfair on those who have to bear the burden in the interim.

  • Erika Baker says:

    “As Philip Giddings is on the CNC’s Selection panel for the Oxford Diocesan vacancy. Alas, I very much doubt that Jeffrey John will get his vote”

    Does that mean that a vote has to be unanimous or is some form of majority sufficient?

  • Flora Alexander says:

    I live in Oxford, and I don’t know how the appointing body is set up. I’m wondering why it isn’t designed so that a simple majority would be sufficient.

  • Flora: the rules are set up in such a way that the national representatives can’t just outvote the local ones. There needs to be broad consensus over the appointment, not just a transient majority of 1.

  • Julia Redfern says:

    I hope God’s call will be more audible regarding the next Bishops of Kensington and Dorking! These are personal interests, but does anyone know the CNC dates for those?

  • Peter K+ says:

    I’m guessing the diversity of the diocese and role is causing the ‘problem’ (if it can be called that) – a large, diverse diocese, national & international prominence, Town & gown, Oxford movement but with big evangelical churches etc etc.

    Julia, the Bishops of Kensington & Dorking are suffragan appointments so don’t operate through the CNC. The CNC is for diocesan appointments and the timetable can be seen here:

  • Father David says:

    Julia, as I understand it the CNC’s only concern is with the appointment of Diocesan Bishops. As far as the Suffragan Bishops of Kensington and Dorking are concerned it would be best to consult the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Guildford respectively; for Diocesans in consultation with others are largely responsible for choosing their own Suffragan Bishops.

  • In the bad old days, two names would go forward and the prime minister would choose one. It meant the church could present two contrasting candidates, and let someone else decide. I don’t suggest we return to that, but the change has had the odd effect that the CNC seems to find it difficult to take responsibility, and episcopal appointments seem more rather than less political.

    The process is confidential, so perhaps the delay was a wise decision. Yet it seems likely that the diocesan majority wants an outspoken liberal to be our next bishop, and the archbishops and others sat on it. Unity is thus preserved…

  • James A says:

    If David Gibson’s information is correct (I’ve also heard a whisper to similar effect) and we deduce that the source of the leak is Welby himself, I doubt whether the ‘excellent woman’ is Lucy Winkett, Viv Faull or Jane Hedges. They’re too liberal for the new-look corporate identity strategy of the current Board of Directors of C of E plc.

    I’m also intrigued that the Archbishop is allowing this vacancy to run in to 2016, when he has previously demanded that the CNC timetable be changed. Of course, this delay is what (according to my inside sources) he threatened the St Edmundsbury CNC with when there was an impasse over Jeffrey John. He told the Commission that, if they didn’t choose another candidate, they wouldn’t reconvene for another 9-15 months. May be Oxford just decided to call his bluff? And, as we know, Justin is a stubborn individual who insists on getting his own way. A very strange disposition for someone waving the ‘reconciliation’ flag, don’t you think?

  • Julia Redfern says:

    Peter K+ and Father David – thank you very much. (I only realised relatively recently how complicated ‘bishops-things’ are. Being in London probably didn’t help). I shall try the consulting.

  • Why is the process confidential? How does this fit in with the notions of transparency and accountability? Yes, keep the names of the candidates confidential (although presumably in the new era of 150 talented future leaders there will be no necessity to do so?) But, the names on the appointment panel and the processes they employ to reach a decision should be a matter of public record.

  • Father David says:

    Obviously the present system, recently introduced, of interviewing candidates isn’t functioning as efficiently as it ought to be, otherwise Justin Welby would not have to keep issuing letters from Lambeth stating that the CNC has failed, yet again, to make a Diocesan episcopal appointment. I wonder if these delays have any connection with the proposed “talent pool”? Maybe, the powers that be are thinking that under the current system of interviewing certain invited candidates, several appointments have not been able to be made but once a “talent pool” has been established then surely all the selected and talented possible episcopal and decanal expectant fish swimming about in that pool are papabile, otherwise they would not be given access to those balmy waters. Ergo, it would be much easier to make top appointments in future as the big fish swimming around in the waters of an ever diminishing pool have already been given favoured status. Just a thought.

  • Fr William says:

    Am I just a tired old cynic? It’s very interesting that the news about the non-Bishop of Oxford – and say what you like, but it displays woeful ineptitude in people and/or process – is so quickly followed by another big story: Church Commissioners and Task Groups. Does it matter that much who the Bishop of Oxford is? If so, why? I just can’t see it.

  • Jeremy says:

    “Yet it seems likely that the diocesan majority wants an outspoken liberal to be our next bishop, and the archbishops and others sat on it. Unity is thus preserved…”

    If that is so, then we come back to the problem that the Archbishop of Canterbury is operating under a serious conflict of interest.

    Is Oxford really going without a new bishop for an entire year, in order to keep the Anglican Communion happy?

    Whose interests are being put first?

  • Erika: a 2/3 majority of the CNC is required. The briefing notes for the Vacancy in See Committee state, inter alia:

    “Before any vote is taken, the person presiding must be satisfied that the Commission’s discussions have paid due regard to the views of the diocesan members and to the requirements of the mission of the Church of England as a whole.

    “The Commission identifies their preferred name for submission to the Prime Minister and a second name in case the first is unable to accept the nomination.

    “Both of the names submitted must have received the support of two-thirds of the members, voting in a secret ballot. When the two names have been identified, a further vote is taken, again by secret ballot, in order to allow the Commission’s members to express a preference between them. It is this vote which identifies the preferred name.”

    An important, often-overlooked point is the requrement to find *two* candidates who can each command a 2/3 vote of the CNC members. If a second candidate cannot be identified then the CNC is deadlocked. So a failure to agree does not necessarily mean that the CNC has failed to identify a candidate; it might mean they have failed to reach agreement on a second candidate.

  • Andrew Lightbown: the process and the names of the panel are not confidential at all, nor even, nowadays, the dates on which the panel is meeting.

    The names of the central members of the CNC are on the record of the General Synod. The names of the local representatives are publicly announced and publicised as soon as the Vacancy in See committee has met and chosen its representatives. The dates of meetings of the CNC are published on the CofE website, as is the process — the Briefing Notes for members of the diocesan Vacancy in See committee are also available on the CofE website.

    The secrecy, or rather confidentiality, surrounds the actual content of the CNC discussions, interviews and decisions, other than the name of the candidate eventually chosen.

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    @Julia Redfern Interviews to advise the Bishop of London on appointments to Edmonton and Kensington took place this last week. There still remain other parts of the process (DBS check, consultations with Archbishop, the various stages with Downing Street and Queen) – all of which mean that you don’t get an announcement straight away.

    With regard to Oxford, it’s a very specific sort of post. The Diocese operates an Area system which is pretty devolved, so the Bishop of Oxford’s calling is to the City and University and to national involvement, in the way that many other diocesan posts are not. It’s worth waiting to get the right person, though I tend to agree that it’s a long wait because of dropping to the back of the queue. But Oxford has three area bishops to carry the load in Oxon, Bucks and Berks, so it’s not as major an issue as it is in some of the other vacant sees.

  • Erika Baker says:

    Thank you, Simon.

  • Richard says:

    Pace Linda Woodhead, Prudence Dailey receives the sacramental ministry of women. That she also thinks those who don’t should continue to have a place in the CofE doesn’t make her “anti women”, surely?

  • DBD says:

    Obviously the system is in urgent need of reformation. Unlike David, I would not involve Elizabeth Windsor; surely the answer is direct election!

  • Mark Bennet says:

    Does anyone know how the forthcoming elections for Diocesan and General Synod will affect the Oxford Diocesan reps? Can they be changed as the Diocesan Synod is re-formed?

  • I wonder if Linda Woodhead meant to refer to Jane Paterson rather than Prudence Dailey. Jane is one of the central CNC members.

  • Father David says:

    “surely the answer is direct election”
    I would agree with DBD that the current system for selecting Diocesan bishops, which has hardly been in place for very long, is in urgent need of reformation but quake at the thought of direct elections. Having just experienced the trauma of a General Election we have so recently seen how these can simply become beauty contests!
    If we were to go down DBD’s route, who would comprise the electorate? Would the chosen system for election be First Past the Post or P. R? If the latter would it be Single Transferable Vote or some other system of Proportional Representation? Sounds like a bit of a mine-field to me.
    At the real Reformation the monarchy took over many of the powers previously held by the papacy. It took a Civil War to wrest those powers from the Crown and transfer them to Parliament but more recently, monarchs like Queen Victoria exercised enormous influence in the selection of those who were elevated to the Bench. For example, the first Headmaster of Wellington School was a great favourite of both Victoria and Albert and, following a stint as Chancellor of Lincoln, Edward White Benson became the first Bishop of Truro and very soon thereafter found himself seated upon St. Augustine’s throne. The Victorian bishops whose selection was greatly influenced by the direct interference of the monarch were by any standards spiritual giants and powers in the land.

  • Anthony Archer says:

    “Does anyone know how the forthcoming elections for Diocesan and General Synod will affect the Oxford Diocesan reps? Can they be changed as the Diocesan Synod is re-formed?”

    The membership of the Oxford CNC will remain as it is until the job is done regardless of whether any of its members, central or diocesan, leave their respective synods in the meantime. We once got stuck on voting for the second name and I said I was prepared to stay all day and night, whereupon ++Rowan said he was due at a school in the afternoon. It galvanised minds and hearts wonderfully.

  • David Exham says:

    Benson was Master of Wellington College in Berkshire not Wellington School.

  • DBD says:

    That something might be difficult to figure out is no reason not to pursue it. I would suggest as a starting point shortlisting by a committee of the Diocesan Synod, advised by non-voting central church folk; then popular election by all laity on electoral rolls (or similar chaplaincy equivalents) and licensed clergy (by houses, using something like STV).

    Could then stop when down to two appointable candidates and draw straws!

  • In our part of the Anglican world, bishops are elected by a majority vote in all three houses of our diocesan synod. Seems to work fine; I can’t see why Father David thinks it’s such a terrifying prospect. As I understand it, in the Anglican world as a whole, it’s the English method of episcopal appointments that’s unusual, not the election method.

  • Whoops – my bad. I should have said ‘a majority vote in each of the TWO houses of clergy and laity’.

    Just for clarification, I’m in the Diocese of Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), which follows the canons of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land for episcopal elections.

  • Father David says:

    DBD. Your proposal is highly unlikely to be implemented. Those on the Church Electoral Rolls don’t even have a vote as to who is to represent them on the various Diocesan Synods – this responsibility is left to those members both clergy and lay on the Deanery Synods – so, I doubt if they will ever be given a vote as to who will be the Diocesan Bishop. Your proposal is as unlikely to be introduced as it is as unlikely that First Past the Post will be replaced by a system of Proportional Representation before the 2020 General Election.

  • Julia Redfern says:

    Thank you Bishop Pete. Excellent to have the straightforward answer. Hope you won’t mind my saying that I think it would be wonderful to have a Double Consecration for the new bishops of Edmonton and Kensington, with Archbishop Justin, Bishop Richard and all other London bishops participating to the fullest extent possible.

  • DBD says:

    Just ideas, not proposals. And we all know we won’t be moving on this within 5 years, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think long term 🙂

  • Father David says:

    Why not a triple consecration with the Bishop of Islington & Church Plants being consecrated along with Edmonton and Kensington as well?

  • Laurence Cunnington says:

    “…it’s a very specific sort of post.” “It’s worth waiting to get the right person” Pete Broadbent

    And not a single one of the large group of women who have been unable to be considered for such a post for years was either able or willing to do it? I find this completely unbelievable.

  • Edward Prebble says:

    Fr David asks: Would the chosen system for election be First Past the Post or P. R? If the latter would it be Single Transferable Vote or some other system of Proportional Representation? Sounds like a bit of a mine-field to me

    Well in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia (and I think it’s the same in most places where direct election by Diocesan Synods operates) we use the system of exhaustive ballots. In other words, if no candidate gets a majority in both houses (or all three houses for an assistant bishop) then we have another ballot, and another one. Clearly that is not a system that would work in a national election, but where synod representatives have gathered with the intention to keep voting until there is a clear result, it usually works well.

    Even where it does not work smoothly, for example when the clergy and laity each have a favoured candidate, and neither house will budge in successive ballots, the reasons for the deadlock are pretty obvious, and become part of the information sent on to whatever system is in place for such eventualities. In our case the electoral synod has the ability to refer the matter to another group, such as the House of Bishops, or a special commission.

    Seems to work.

  • Anthony Archer says:

    I think it is safe to assume that the wider politics of the CofE are being played out in the counsels of the Oxford and other recent CNCs. We don’t know how shortlisted candidates (i.e. those called for interview) are chosen. Members who are set against any one or more candidates might be willing to allow them to be called for interview having made the calculation that they would not command a two-thirds majority when the commission comes to vote. I think that is no way to treat the process. However, the other side of that coin is that those who sponsor such candidates absolutely want them in the final mix. The Oxford CNC has probably failed because a liberal candidate could not command enough votes and/or a woman candidate was judged not to have the breadth of experience for such an apparently ‘challenging’ diocese, a characterisation I dispute. There is always a compromise candidate available but under the new interviewing regime (which I broadly applaud) there is no machinery to find a solution when the commission is stuck, save to meet again. The church is not well served by this scenario. One solution might be to consider ‘candidates’ who have not been interviewed, as there is no statutory obligation on the CNC to interview. However, I should add that there seems to be a view that somehow Oxford is ‘special’ and that that makes the appointment more difficult. It is not the only large diocese to have a strong established area bishop scheme and the idea that the Bishop of Oxford is thereby expected to play a larger role in the National Church is a somewhat recent invention, based on the +Harries episcopacy. +Pritchard was a quite different appointment. His excellent episcopacy was focused on mission and ministry. Admittedly, the structure of his diocese enabled him to hold the major education brief, but lots of other diocesans assume major roles in the National Church. The last ‘national’ figure as diocesan was +Kirk some 60 years ago, and he was a Regius Professor, not a qualification many think is needed today given the challenges confronting the church, as evidenced by the Reform and Renewal work!

  • Laurence Cunnington says:

    “the idea that the Bishop of Oxford is thereby expected to play a larger role in the National Church is a somewhat recent invention” Anthony Archer

    A role of such importance that it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether anyone does it all for extended periods of time!

  • Father David says:

    Is Anthony Archer forgetting + Soapy Sam Wilberforce who, as Bishop of Oxford, certainly played a significant role in the National Church and he was far from “recent”?
    “the new interviewing regime” – Seems to me to result too often in deadlock. I don’t recall any discussion at the General Synod about this new system being introduced to replace the old? Who decided that candidates for the episcopacy should now undergo such a fiery ordeal and when was it actually introduced? Who actually “voted” to impose the new interviewing regime onto the selection process for senior pastors of the Established Church? Whoever it was seems to have opened up the proverbial can of worms in that there now seems to be a ground swell of opinion which seeks to further introduce a vulgar system of voting in order to choose future Diocesan Bishops.

  • Neil Patterson says:

    I fear some commentators are reading more excitement into the deadlock than it merits. The leaks from the first, failed, Hereford CNC (which I have now heard enough times I cannot possibly regard them as ‘secret’) were not that there was a division, but simply that the diocesan members did not think any of the candidates offered were good enough for the job, and refused to vote for them. The Church is not actually overflowing with capable, experienced, inspiring people able to take on the colossal and unreasonable expectations heaped in diocesan bishops.

  • With respect to the Church of england’s way of electing diocesan bishops, perhaps they could learn something from other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Mind you, those provinces doe not have the luxury (?) of government patronage and may therefore be freer from political coercion.

    Perhaps it is time for dis-establishment of ‘Mother Church’, so that she can be freed from political patronage? But then, would she ever have moved on from misogyny and homophobia – without the political pressure of government?

  • Michael Chancellor says:

    @Neil Patterson hits the nail on the head about lack of quality candidates for episcopal office – especially as Diocesans. But were those interviewed for Oxford simply not up to it; or was it more a matter of not being ‘people like us’?

  • Anthony Archer says:

    A few comments on the CNC interviewing candidates. The Perry Report, Working with the Spirit (GS 1405), ruled out interviews, but when the report was debated in about 2002, GS requested that short listed candidates be interviewed at the second CNC meeting. GS could not mandate the CNC, but its views were persuasive. Discussion and debate continued on the point for years. Finally the CNC central members, at the mid-point in the 2007-2012 CNC election cycle, decided that interviewing should be introduced. ++Sentamu made a statement to the General Synod in February 2010 to that effect, stating that the first CNC to adopt the procedure would be Bradford that autumn. Interviewing has been adopted ever since. It is not however mandatory, but it would be considered unusual were a CNC to dispense with it or, having interviewed some candidates, nominated a candidate not so interviewed. The process must be considered normative. In the past diocesan members (and occasionally central members) did not know the candidates. That was a major handicap. The only limiting (and obvious) factor of the new procedure (which has resulted in the Canterbury, Hereford and Oxford CNCs needing to reconvene) is that if the commission does not elect from among the short listed candidates, further candidates need to be called for interview. That extends the process, quite apart from the need to find another date(s) or, as has just happened, moving Oxford to the back of the queue. We don’t know how a CNC (each might be different) decides on candidates for interview. Do they vote? If so, presumably they vote by simple majority. That cannot of course be predictive of what might happen on final voting after the interviews. It might be pragmatic for the commission to hold a series of straw polls (based on what they know about candidates at that stage) to model the final vote. If a candidate fails to secure sufficient support (for example, all the central members are against, or few if any diocesan members are in favour) it makes no sense to summon them for interview. My sense is that the Oxford CNC was difficult from the start on account of the candidate mix called for interview. That just makes the CNC’s task more difficult and wastes everybody’s time. The commission is meant to act as a discernment body. It ought to do more discernment earlier in the process.

  • Father David says:

    Shurely before candidates are called for interview they must be deemed to be “up to it”, otherwise why waste everybody’s time and effort? How on earth does that make the rejected interviewees feel when, in effect, they are considered to be “not up to it”?

  • Anthony Archer says:

    There is basically a ‘pool’ of candidates who are considered to be ready for diocesan bishoprics and a separate ‘pool’ ready for suffragan bishoprics. The process for developing those pools is the subject of the Green proposals etc and will ensure a more robust framework. However, it certainly used to be the case that each member of the CNC could ‘mandate’ one name, i.e. insist such a such a person is considered. On that basis, suitable paperwork and references had to be obtained if it was not already available. With the advent of women bishops, clearly these pools have been expanded considerably. It is not a question of not being ‘up to it’ but the rather nuanced ‘not being up to it for that diocese.’ The reasons, of course, remain guarded by the confidentiality of deliberation.

  • Peter Owen says:

    In the 2010 statement that Anthony Archer referred to above, ++Sentamu also said that the central members would “make a report to Synod in two years’ time [ie in 2012] with an evaluation of this new step in the process.” I have yet to see such a report.

  • Father David says:

    “not bring up to it for that diocese” does that imply that we now have first and second class dioceses? In Archbishop Garbett’s day there were what was considered to be Bishoprics of Work and Bishoprics of Ease. After wearing himself out with over work in Southwark Garbett went to Winchester to recuperate before going onto York as Archbishop. Do we still have such a division in the modern day Church of England. Not so long ago certain cathedrals had Provosts and other older foundations Deans. But to obliterate any sense of first and second class cathedrals the all clergy at the head of the Chapter became Deans. However, among all the cathedrals in England Durham undoubtedly reigns supreme.

  • Anthony Archer says:

    Not having been a member of the Ninth General Synod (2010-15) my finger is not as much on the pulse as it was! ++Sentamu answered a question at the last Group of Sessions (Feb 2015) by saying: “the last external scrutiny in relation to the Crown Nominations Commission was conducted in 2010 by Baroness Fritchie, the former Commissioner for Public Appointments. Because her report concerned the circumstances of a particular CNC it could not be published, but she made some general recommendations which were considered by the central members of the Commission. The latter regularly review how the Commission operates and we have the benefit of input from the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary as well as our own to ensure that we keep abreast of changes in law and good practice. The House of Bishops has no current plans for a further review of the Commission.” The Fritchie report concerned the Canterbury CNC. It is high time members of General Synod demanded a report from the CNC (informed by the views of its current central members) and that there was a proper debate. The standing orders make provision for reports to be made but it is obviously inconvenient for the authorities!

  • Martyn Percy says:

    I have no specific comment on the vacancy in Oxford. But as a general comment, it is perhaps worth re-stating that the CNC now only gives each candidate about an hour for interview. In my view, this is simply not an adequate period of time for a process of spiritual discernment, for what are complex and multi-faceted roles. This new interview system has been developed by management staff in the Wash House at Lambeth Palace. For further detail and discussion see the article in ‘Modern Believing’, 2014:

  • Father David says:

    Only an hour’s interview to discern whether or not a person is “up to” being a Diocesan Bishop! How incredible is that? I remember many decades ago when I attended an ACCM Selection Conference spread over three days, I was grilled by five selectors in five separate interviews in order to test my vocation simply in order to see if I was a suitable candidate to start training for the ordained ministry. The more I learn about the CNC interview process the more my concern grows and the more I feel that it needs to be completely reviewed and reformed.

  • Imagine how fruitful it might be if 2, 3, or even 4 candidates *met the panel together* for a 24 hour period of discussion about the vacant office and what each thought the diocese might need.

  • The Fritchie report was not about Canterbury, but was about Southwark.

  • Mark Bennet says:

    One issue to consider with the CNC is that the processes have been made more complex by including interviews (which have to be prepared for and agreed etc) at the same time that there is a predictable run of retirements amongst bishops. But little seems to have been done to increase the capacity of the process to handle the extra work. So that is a question which needs to be faced – another place where the process has been adapted in part, without thinking about the system as a whole.

  • Father David says:

    Mark is quite correct to flag up the predictable run of retirements from among Diocesan Bishops. Much has been made of the fact that 40% of the clergy will retire within the next 10 years; hence the ensuing panic to introduce 11th hour strategies in so many dioceses. However, if my calculations are correct more than 50% of the Diocesan Bishops will retire in and during the next decade. 22 current Diocesans are over 60 years of age, 17 are aged between 50 and 60 and only one (Southwell & Nottingham) is in his 40s, with two current vacant sees – Oxford and Newcastle. Furthermore, Dunelm will become a sexagenarian later this year and Cantuar will join him on the Feast of the Epiphany next year.

  • The process is still too top-heavy – no matter how one might try to speed up the process. Just imagine how much more effective would be the whole business if the local diocese were given the spiritual task of discerning who might be their next chief pastor. Firstly; the diocese knows what they need. Secondly; the diocese might be the absolutely best unit for local pastoral care.

    This is, of course, not a Roman Catholic-style solution. But then, we Anglicans always did things a little differently – at least in other places. That’s why the Covenant didn’t float.

  • Malcolm Halliday says:

    Thought readers might like to know that I have tabled the following question for amswer at the July General Synod sessions and have given over a months notice so a full reply should be forthcoming!!

    To ask the Chair of the Crown Nominations Commission:-
    In a statement made to Synod on Tuesday 9 February 2010 regarding changes to the conduct of the Crown Nominations Commission, including the introduction of interviews (Report of Proceedings page 98), the Archbishop of York stated that “the central members will make a report to Synod in two years’ time with an evaluation of this new step in the process.” No such report has yet been despite the elapse of five years.
    In view of the delays and difficulties that the Commission appears to have had in proposing names for some vacant sees during the period since that promise was made, can a comprehensive report now be made please?

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