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What is the Crown Nominations Commission and How Does It Work?

Prudence Dailey’s Commentary

What is the Crown Nominations Commission, and How Does it Work?

Another Group of Sessions of the General Synod (this time in York) is now over; and during the course of the proceedings (aside from picking up an unwanted souvenir in the form of a dose of COVID!) I managed to get elected as one of the central members of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the body responsible for nominating people to become Diocesan Bishops. (I have previously been a Diocesan representative on the CNC for the Diocese of Oxford on two separate occasions.)

Unlike many other Churches in the Anglican Communion, the Church of England does not elect its bishops; but instead they ‘emerge’ from the clandestine processes of the CNC. Its deliberations are subject to strict secrecy, including the names of the potential candidates—and until relatively recently, even the candidates themselves were not supposed to know they were under consideration unless appointed! The process itself, however, is not confidential.

A new CNC is convened each time an appointment is to be made to a Diocesan See. (Suffragan Sees—except the See of Dover—are not appointed by the CNC, but by the Diocesan Bishop concerned.) The membership of the CNC consists of six representatives elected from within the Diocese concerned; six central members (three clergy and three laity) elected by the General Synod for a five-year term; plus the two Archbishops. They are supported by the two Appointments Secretaries (the Archbishops’ and the Prime Minister’s), who are non-voting. (The composition of the CNC to choose a new Archbishop of Canterbury is somewhat different, with the General Synod having just agreed—at the Diocese’s own request—to reduce the number of representatives from the Canterbury Diocese, and increase representation from the Global Anglican Communion. The Canterbury CNC also has an independent chairman, appointed by the Prime Minister.)

In the past, the six national representatives were the same people each time (with a substitute being appointed if on occasion someone was unable to make it); but under a new system just instituted, the central members have been elected in pairs, along with a running-mate. My ‘pair’ is Debbie Buggs, a conservative evangelical from the London Diocese: we will decide between us which of us will sit on each CNC.

Long before the CNC meets, a Diocesan Statement of Needs is drawn up; and the Appointments Secretaries conduct a consultation process within and beyond the Diocese, resulting in a long-list of names: members of the CNC can also add their own names to the long-list. The members of the CNC then spend a full day whittling the long-list down into a shortlist, often (but not always) of four names. Subsequently, the shortlisted candidates will be interviewed, discussed and voted on over a period of two days: this is done using a series of elimination votes, conducted by secret ballot. 

It used to be the case that the CNC would put two names to the Prime Minister in preference order, from which the Prime Minister would choose one (usually, but not necessarily, the first). Prime Minister Gordon Brown changed this, however, asking that only one name be put forward, to whom the position would automatically be offered: despite this, however, the CNC is still required to produce two names, the second being a reserve (in case, for example, the first named person declines the appointment). At the culmination of the process, each of the two names must command a two-thirds majority of all the voting members of the CNC: the whole process can be quite tense and draining, especially given the inevitable divergences of opinion amongst members, and consequent difficulty in reaching an agreement.

It will be some before I sit on my first CNC as a central member: I—and all my fellow members—will appreciate your prayers.

Miss Prudence Dailey MBE has been a member of the General Synod from Oxford Diocese for over twenty years and is now a member of the Crown Nominations Commission.