General Synod Speech: "Discerning in Obedience: A Theological Review of the Crown Nominations Commission"


Archbishop Sentamu speaking at General Synod

Speech at General Synod of the Church of England by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, “Discerning in Obedience: A Theological Review of the Crown Nominations Commission”

We had intended to welcome the new Bishop of Sheffield for the first time at Synod, we welcome you Pete.

Now then, Beloved in Christ, we now come to the “Take Note” debate. My first duty, and indeed joy, is to thank Professor Oliver O’Donovan and the rest of the team for the time they dedicated to this Review and for the depth of the insights they have provided. Their work graciously demands of us all – not because it is Holy writ – but because of its theological and moral weight to hear it, read it, mark it, learn it, inwardly and patiently digest its message (to borrow the words of the 1662 Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent) so that we may discern in obedience the nomination of Bishops in the Church of England. Because as a Church of England, by Law Established, and is both Catholic and Reformed, the nomination of its Chief Pastors requires wisdom and insight and cannot be taken lightly. It can only be realised by walking “in the new and living way which Christ has opened for us through the curtain, the way of his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20).

Archbishop Justin and I were confident that to approach this as a theological rather than a process review would draw out riches for us. Indeed, it has, and we have before us a report which will be foundational to the way in which we think about discernment in the many areas of the life of the Church of England and, for that matter, in the Anglican Communion and we are very grateful to have three Primates of three Provinces here with us at Synod.

In addition, we do not often get the opportunity to thank those who serve as members of the Commission - central and diocesan. I would like to do so now. This is a costly calling and this report reminds us of the complexities involved.

Commission members carry the hopes and aspirations of many, as well as the tensions of the wider Church of England as they ponder and pray over, say, the next Bishop of Bristol or Truro. Over the last 12 years I have seen how the Crown Nominations Commission carry this responsibility and I want to pass on my gratitude.

Many issues have been raised in the previous discussion and I would like to start by drawing out some of the themes that have resonated with me. Forgive me if I repeat some words from Professor O’ Donovan. But a vote will be taken at the end of the ‘Take Note’ debate. I will then set out how we ought to progress the recommendations.

The report notes (para 1,7) “painful points of pressure” on current operations. We are committed to addressing these - some in the short term and some in the longer term – and the comments and ideas of Synod members will be listened to carefully by the various bodies we are suggesting take the proposals forward.

Firstly, let us turn to the challenge posed to us around “Discernment” – a word we use so often. And I quote,

“Discernment involves a step of faith enabling us to conceive something that God will bring about, which is not yet objectively visible”.

In order to reach a discernment … it is essential not to try to know the end from the beginning”. If we do so we are “likely to miss what God intends us to see”.

Secondly, Vocation and a reminder that the calling of the Church and the calling of the individual rest together if vocation is to be fulfilled: “The call of God is proved by a convergence of the judgment of the nominators (in this case the Crown Nominations Commission) with a personal conviction of vocation on the part of the nominee”.

Thirdly, Trust: “If the candidates are to have trust in the Crown Nominations Commission, members of the Commission must also have trust in one another”.

Fourthly, Diversity: “To represent others is to be trusted by those who share an angle of vision and to commend that vision to those who have other angles”.

I am sure I am not alone in being alert to the possibilities these reflections should have in our wider life of the Church.

We should also note the reflections on the oversight role of the bishop which demands of them to lead with insight and wisdom with a willingness to challenge and to be challenged, a willingness to change and to foster change. The significance of theological culture; holding together spiritual and administrative gifts; preparation for the gift of leadership; the exploration of the roles of Archbishops, Central and Diocesan Members and Secretarial Support; and the processes of discerning and deciding and voting arrangements. I am sure that members will wish to comment further on these in the debate.

So now I turn to the implementation of recommendations. Members of Synod will be aware that a number of Crown Nominations Commission related issues have come together. Sir Philip Mawer made some suggestions about process in his recent Review of the Sheffield Crown Nominations Commission; Oxford Diocesan Synod has proposed a motion inviting the Archbishops to initiate a review into the role of the Crown Nominations Commission; and the Archbishops’ Council has been invited by the Diocese of Canterbury to consider proposals to enable Synod to extend the functions of the Crown Nominations Commission to include the See of Dover and also to reduce the number of diocesan members elected to the Commission when it  considers a vacancy in the See of Canterbury.

This latter piece of work will require a cool-head and a compassionate-heart review before consideration by this Synod and the Secretary General will need to liaise with both the diocese and the wider Anglican Communion to develop proposals.

With regard to the Oxford Motion, Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s group has reviewed different methods of appointment around the Anglican Communion. It is reassuring that the group concludes, “Our view of the overall structure of the Crown Nominations Commission is positive. It is capable of serving the Church well” - noting that it rests on “responsible theological grounds”. It may be that Synod will wish to revisit the issue of whether or not to have a wider review at some stage. However, at this stage, the Archbishop of Canterbury and I propose to focus on the recommendations of “Discerning in Obedience”; and to implement them through existing bodies and committees. We believe that this will be an effective way to bring about the changes identified.

The annex to GS 2080 draws together the recommendations of the Sir Philip Mawer Review and of the report – “Discerning in Obedience” we are discussing today. It sets out very clearly the areas that each group will be asked to progress and also proposes an oversight from General Synod to monitor progress itself. To give you an idea of timing, the central members of the Crown Nominations Commission meet in March and will consider the various issues set out in the paper at its meeting. You will also note that some of the recommendations from the Sir Philip Mawer Review have already been put in place.

This afternoon, I would like to invite members of Synod to share their reflections - theological and practical - on this report. I welcome additional ideas and suggestions from the floor which I will refer to the working groups identified. Speaking on behalf of those of us who serve as permanent members of the Crown Nominations Commission – the Archbishop of Canterbury and I, and the two Appointments’ Secretaries, will report back to you in July following a meeting of the Central Members in March.

And so Synod I invite you to “Take Note” of the report “Discerning in Obedience: a theological review of the Crown Nominations Commission”. Chair, I beg to move the motion standing in my name. Thank you.