President, what President?
Simon Sarmiento, Anglicans Online staff
9 September 2001
The Hurd report, published this week, comprehensively analyses the roles
of the Archbishop of Canterbury and makes excellent recommendations for
reducing the workload of the archbishop by applying normal management
principles: delegation of as much as possible to others, and having a
much stronger team of supporting staff. Most of the report deals with
internal Church of England issues, but in this article I will concentrate
only on the sections dealing with the Anglican Communion.
The recommendation to appoint a senior bishop from outside England, to be based
in Lambeth Palace, and to act as the archbishop's chief assistant on Anglican Communion matters is unexceptionable, although the report is
surely right to highlight the potential conflict between this role and that of the Secretary-General at the Anglican Communion Office down
the road. More work will need to be done to resolve that issue.
it is surprising that the distinguished authors of this report have accepted,
seemingly without question, the notion that a 'presidency' of the Anglican
Communion already exists and that its fulfilment therefore needs to be
resolved. Only very recently has this term 'president of the communion'
crept into occasional use: I first found it on the Anglican Communion
Office web site shortly after the last Lambeth Conference. It would be
interesting to identify from the Lambeth Palace archives when this term
was first used in any document. Last year I wrote to the Lambeth press
office about this terminology and received the following reply from the
official press spokesperson on 10 August 2000:
Regarding the term 'President of the Anglican Communion,' it is an informal,shorthand
description, reflecting the Archbishop's presidency of the ACC, the chairmanship of the Primates Meeting, the chairmanship of Lambeth Conference
and role as Primus inter Pares.
So far as I have been able to discover, none of the above-mentioned bodies has
given any official sanction to the use of this shorthand. Nobody doubts the need for leadership of the communion, but that is not necessarily
best served by adopting such a title, even informally.
The Hurd report, however, says:
The Anglican Communion has four 'Instruments of Unity'. They are:
- The Archbishop of Canterbury - Provinces belong because they are said to be
in communion with the See of Canterbury;
- The Anglican Consultative Council - a representative body of lay and clerical
members established in 1968. It is the only one of the instruments that is incorporated. It appoints the Secretary General (at present an
ordained member of the Episcopal Church of the USA) and the staff of the Anglican Communion Office located in Waterloo Road, London;
- The Primates' Meeting - the assembly of the 38 Primates, now meeting annually
and first called together in 1979. Recently, it has acquired a growing importance;
- The Lambeth Conference - a decennial assembly open to all Anglican bishops
and first called in 1867. The last one was in 1998 at Canterbury. (The Conference has not met at Lambeth since 1968.)
Of the four instruments, the Archbishop himself constitutes one, and he is
president of the others. He is the central figure, but holds no centralized power. That is the paradox of the Anglican Communion.
That's two less chairmanships and two more presidencies than the year before.
The Hurd report even uses the exact term 'president of the communion' twice, and discusses at length the concept of 'presidency' of the communion,
despite the comment in its own Appendix B that:
So slender is the underpinning of explicit legal provision that it has even
been doubted how far, juridically, an Anglican Communion can be said to exist.
In law, the
Archbishop has, except in the very few cases where local constitutions
allow for it, no power to intervene in the affairs of an Anglican Province
outside England other than by the express invitation of the Province
concerned. Discussions continue about whether and, if so, how this situation
may be changed. Meanwhile, the Archbishop's leadership is exercised
as being primus inter pares so far as the other Primates are concerned.
if such a title is to be used, it needs both to have some substantive
meaning, and not to be merely adopted by Lambeth unilaterally, without
As the report also says:
In all areas of life the present tendency is to focus attention and expectations
on the leader. It may easily lead to demands that are unrealistic. In some parts of the Communion, for example, there is a tendency to think
of the Archbishop as a kind of Anglican Pope, able to exercise jurisdiction throughout the Communion. Such a position has neither been claimed
nor desired by any Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, one of the marks of Anglicanism as it has evolved has been the positive affirmation
that the Church in each of the 38 Provinces should have the power to order its life according to the culture and needs of the Province within
the constraints of the biblical faith as the Church has received it. There is indeed a lively debate in the Anglican Communion on the nature
and exercise of authority in the Church and in particular on the possible role of organs
of the Communion in setting limits to undue diversity. We also note the strong resistance to any weakening of the principle that ultimate
legislative authority lies with the Provinces rather than with any Communion-wide body. This does not mean that the so-called Instruments
of Unity - the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting - have no
authority. But it is an authority of moral suasion, not of juridical control. The authority of an Archbishop of Canterbury is real, but it
is an authority of influence, not of decree.
It's not surprising then that some newspapers continue to report that these
recommendations will make the archbishop more like an Anglican Pope. The use of presidential terminology should be subject to more rigorous
scrutiny than has occurred to date.