…why there no job adverts for bishops? And in case you’re wondering, this article is not about me angling for another job. It’s simply trying to explain something of the arcane workings of the Church of England!
In essence, there are three sorts of bishop:
There are suffragan bishops who assist the diocesan bishop and cover a discrete area within the diocese. So in our diocese we have the suffragan bishops of Plymouth (who covers Plymouth and Torbay, and South and West Devon) and the suffragan bishop of Crediton (who covers Exeter, and North and East Devon). Rather unsurprisingly, they are chosen by the diocesan bishop – although I am sure he would consult widely on any appointment.
Then there are diocesan bishops. These are chosen by the “vacancy-in-see” committee. Although it is a rare event to elect a new bishop, the vacancy-in-see committee is always there waiting in the wings, to cover any eventuality. Any clerk in holy orders may stand for this committee, as can any lay communicant member of the diocese, but the actual members of the committee are elected by the respective houses of the diocesan synod (that is, the clergy members of the diocesan synod vote for whichever clergy they want, and the lay members of the diocesan synod vote for whichever lay persons they want). This committee is elected every three years.
By the way, today is actually the date on which nominations to the new vacancy-in-see committee have closed. This committee may or may not have to meet in the next three years, but if they do, they will have an important decision to make which will profoundly affect the life of the diocese. So if elections are going to be held in the next couple of weeks, please pray for great wisdom for those on diocesan synod (like myself) who are going to vote. There are good reasons for knowing what goes on elsewhere in the diocese.
Then there are the archbishops, one of York, one of Canterbury, although of course the Archbishop of Canterbury has a special place within the worldwide Anglican Communion. The work of deciding who will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury falls to the Crown Nominations Commission, a worthy body consisting of one chair, one representative of the worldwide Anglican Communion, two reps from the House of Bishops, six reps from the vacancy-in-see committee of Canterbury Diocese, and six reps from General Synod. Again this committee as it meets deserves our prayers because weighty is the task put upon them. At the moment it seems they have been unable to make a recommendation, but in the end they will have to propose two names to the Prime Minister who is then bound to appoint the first-named.
My only comment is that it seems somewhat unfair there is only one rep from the Worldwide Communion on this committee (and the current post-holder comes from Wales!). One of the most important tasks that any new Archbishop will have to tackle is the growing distance between the fast-growing, predominantly evangelical churches of the Global South and the declining, generally more liberal churches of the Northern hemisphere. But maybe that’s a subject for another blog.
In the meanwhile whatever the exact type of bishop, the men who occupy these positions have great responsibilities. Let’s hold them in our prayers, and ask the Lord for more godly men who can lead the flock as effective under-shepherds (1 Pet 5:1) in these challenging times.