Picking a pope…or an Archbishop

The impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI means that in the span of a few months, there will be a new Archbishop of Canterbury, a new pope of the Coptic Church, and a new Bishop of Rome, aka the Holy Father.

There are lots of reasons why this overlap might be interesting but I’ve been thinking about the various selection processes. The Copts had a blindfolded boy pick a name out of a bowl. The Roman Catholic cardinals will get together, do who knows what, and then send up white smoke.

And the Anglicans? Well, the Anglicans appointed a representative committee of lay people and priests, took resumes, had candidates answer questions, got together for a meeting, had some more meetings, and finally the Prime Minister tweeted who the next Archbishop would be, but only after the committee had leaked the name and some members tried to cash in on their inside knowledge by betting on the outcome.

So who comes out best? By all accounts, Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, is a fine selection. But I wonder if these comparative processes don’t tell us something about the state of our church these days.

“Managerialism” seems to be taking over the church. In seminary, the comparisons between church and business seem to be growing. It is said the church needs priests who are “entrepreneurial,” for instance. Candidates with past business experience are looked upon favourably. There are probably good reasons for this—the church does need managers. In this context, it’s no wonder that the Crown Nominations Commission—the body that chose Welby—would ask candidates to submit answers to questions, compare resumes, and debate the merits of each candidate, just like any other hiring committee in the business world would.

And that’s fine. Except… I don’t know. Something about just seems so anti-septic, professional, and like it’s trying to control the Holy Spirit’s work. “If only we can get the right process,” you can hear people saying, “then we’ll get the right candidate.” And who knows. The cardinals may ask these very same questions. But I can’t help but think that in trying to create a church in the image we know best, we’re missing the point of how God works.

I don’t have any answers or conclusions. Managerialism is too entrenched in the church to go anywhere anytime soon. But the conjunction of three new religious leaders can’t but provoke thought.

One thought on “Picking a pope…or an Archbishop

  1. From my perspective, this seems like a movement in a good direction. Historically (and still technically the case) the Archbishop of Canterbury was a royal appointment. So the options, amongst the three systems you discussed, were: name out of a hat, secret election from previous leader’s hand-picked cronies, or appointment by monarch from amongst the church leaders most to their liking. None particularly great options, in my opinion. At least now there is some sort of independent oversight of the selection process that at least in theory looks to the greater good of the church.

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