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Archbishop’s panel splits over church’s future

It is the decision that 77 million Anglicans around the world are waiting for: who will become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

But nine days after the successor to Dr Rowan Williams was expected to have been named, the Crown Nominations Commission remains silent.

Its work is shrouded in secrecy, but a Sunday Telegraph investigation can reveal that its 16 members are split, not over women bishops or same sex marriages, but the future of the Church itself.

A substantial number of people on the panel would like a man who will reform the structures, finance and strategies of the Church of England and help “restructure” it for the modern age.

Their favourite is the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, a 56-year-old former oil company executive, who is seen as the front-runner.

He is believed to have been chosen as the first of two names to be put to the Prime Minister and, ultimately, the Queen. However, the commission is divided about who the other man should be.

The plain-speaking Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has supporters who see him as a different kind of reformer, appealing to people beyond the Church and bringing energy and directness to the effort to arrest the decline in membership. The appointment to Canterbury of a man born in Uganda would also please many of the 77 million people in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Other panel members argue for the steadying hand of a caretaker Archbishop who will keep the Church close to the Crown and state, such as the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. “This is about whether we go for the establishment status quo or go for a radical vision of what the Church is and how it should work,” said a source close to members of the commission.

The process is being kept so secret that Church officials cannot say whether, or when, the panel will meet again.

However, the Telegraph has learned that its work has been delayed by at least a fortnight.

At the end of last month, after three intense days of meetings at a retreat centre in Woking, Surrey, one member of the commission asked for time away.

And the leading candidate, Bishop Welby, is due to go away this week, making himself unavailable until mid-October.

The source said: “I know that they have abandoned meeting for at least a fortnight.”

The process of choosing the new Archbishop began in March with a widespread appeal for people of all faiths and none to give their opinions. This was followed by a lockdown when the commission began to meet in May.

Members have now met for seven days over five months, although they have been ordered to reveal nothing about their discussions.

One former member of the panel said the new Archbishop was being chosen by a process of elimination. Once a number of candidates have been chosen, they are ranked in order of preference by members in a blind vote. The name with the least votes drops out. The panel then votes again, and again, until one man has the 11 votes necessary for a two-thirds majority.

By convention, the Prime Minister will propose that the Queen appoints the first name as the next Archbishop. But a second candidate must be supplied, in case the first cannot take the post or turns it down.

That means after the first name is chosen the process begins again, with all the others thrown back into the ring, as well as any candidates that members may wish to reconsider.

Some leading Anglicans are saying that if the deadlock continues, Downing Street will have to intervene.

Anthony Archer, a former commission member, said that would be “ignominious”.

But he added: “If the commission remains deadlocked, the constitutional realities are that this is a Crown appointment. Only the Prime Minister can unlock it.”

The 16 panel members include six from the General Synod, the governing body of the Church, and six from the diocese of Canterbury. The House of Bishops has two representatives but there is only one for the worldwide Anglican Communion, Dr Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales.

His liberal views are hardly representative of the communion, which is dominated by evangelicals who take a hard line on issues such as homosexuality.

The chairman is Lord Luce, a former Tory cabinet minister who was appointed by Downing Street. There have been suggestions of the so-called Canterbury Six acting together to block or promote candidates. At least nine members of the commission seem likely to be in favour of a reformer,

“The Church of England is at a crossroads, but the roads do not fall according to the usual tribal lines of evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and liberals,” said one leading Anglican.

“They fall along the lines of who are those who want a safe pair of hands – the ‘steady as she goes, let’s just keep the ship afloat and heading in the same direction’ view – and those who have a much bigger vision of what God might be doing.”

The Church has agreed three goals for the coming century: to grow, in terms of congregations and spiritual depth; to focus resources where there is most need and opportunity; and “to reshape or re-imagine the Church’s ministry” so there is a Christian witness in every local community.

However, the Church no longer has the priests, the people or the money to have a paid member of the clergy in every parish church. There are many who believe that it is time for a rethink.

The Bishop of Durham has already defined himself as a reformer, having begun to change the funding of his diocese in an innovative way.

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