I can think of no better tricameral organisation, both in what it stands for, and what they are expected to achieve in the lives of millions of people living not only in the British Isles, but across the Globe, than the General Synod of the Anglican church.
As the description suggests, it comprises three distinct Houses, namely: The House of Laity, who are the parishioners or ordinary members; the House of Clergy, mainly responsible for the day-to-day ministry, and administration of the Church, and the 3rd House known as the House of Bishops.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior Anglican Bishop, and principal leader of the Church of England. As such, he is the symbolic Head of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Within the United Kingdom, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the more senior of the two Archbishops in charge of the two Provinces of the country, the other being the Archbishop of York. Twenty six Bishops sit as members of the House of Lords in Parliament; the 2 Archbishops, the Bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester occupy 5 permanent seats together with 21 other Diocesan Bishops who are appointed on a strict basis of seniority from a total pool of 43 Diocese across the country.
Many citizens, including members of the Anglican church, are not fully aware of the work and responsibilities of General Synod, with respect to policy on ministry, worship, and fixing the Liturgy of the day. But, and mainly thanks to the secular national press, we have all become wise regarding those major problems passed on to the House of Bishops to ultimately resolve. In this context, the recent years under the stewardship of Dr Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, have been fraught with some difficult issues.
The employment of women clergy, appointment of a Gay Bishop in the United States of America, the matter of homosexual priests in general, acceptance of Sharia Law in the United Kingdom, whether Divorcees should get married in the Church of England, should the Church of England remain the established church of the State, are some examples of this continuing challenge. And, of late, the proposal to introduce Gay Marriages as opposed to civil partnerships that already have the approval of parliament has been hotly debated. These matters have proved especially problematical for the House of Bishops both within the Church, and in the wider sections of Society.
I believe that part of the reason for this, is the historical expectation that the Church would lead in matters of ethical standards, and good behaviour based on the principles on which the Christian faith is founded, as against the changing nature of society whereby many religions have followed the mix of nationalities who have been able to settle in the United Kingdom with a freedom to practice their several faiths. Indeed, whereas the Monarch has hitherto always been regarded as the Head of the Christian Church, the Heir to the Throne has already indicated that if, and when he becomes King he will become the curator of faith instead. No doubt, this may well be another problem for the House of Bishops to resolve in the future.
Their immediate problem, though, is more a personal issue than not. After acting as Head of this House for ten years in December 2012, Dr Williams who is known internationally as an outstanding theological writer, scholar, and teacher will step down to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. The Crown Nominations Commission were at deadlock after meeting for three days recently over their selection of his successor. Dr Williams has warned that any successor would need “the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros”. They must decide soon, when their recommendation will be made to the Prime Minister, and Her Majesty for final appointment. It has been mooted that perhaps the job is too complicated and stressful and it would make sense to appoint anot2er Bishop to be responsible for administrative matters that would leave the Archbishop free for his pastoral and ecclesiastical work. With all these massive problems one is led to ask what is it about this House, the House of Bishops, that anyone would knowingly want to be considered as its leader? I guess, God only knows!!
20th October 2012
On 9th November 2012, Justin Welby was confirmed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He will be enthroned as the 1205th incumbent in Canterbury Cathedral on 21st March 2013.