LONDON (AP) -- Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey retires this year, and the Church of England isn't choosing anyone to fill the vacancy. That responsibility falls on Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Unlike bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States, or any other member of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England's bishops are chosen by the government.
The church's governing General Synod recently affirmed it is content with this position -- a result of its status as the legally established faith of England -- rejecting the idea of a break between church and state.
"God has called the Church of England to exercise servanthood and mission in partnership with the state," Bishop of Durham Michael Turnbull told the General Synod meeting in York last week. "This is our unique vocation, we should not be the ones to decline that call."
A motion calling for the church to choose its own leaders was voted down on a show of hands, following a sometimes passionate debate.
Oddly, the reported front-runner to succeed Carey is the archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, who has expressed support for changing the church-state relationship. The Church in Wales, which Williams now leads, was "disestablished" in 1920.
The Church of Scotland is a self-governing Presbyterian church. The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869.
Though sometimes portrayed as an enthusiast for disestablishment, Williams has been cautious in his public pronouncements.
"It seems self-evident that the disestablishment of the Church of England is not something which is going to come all at once or in the immediate future," Williams said in January.
"However, with the pace of social change being what it is, this is a matter that is bound to need renegotiation and reconsideration in the decades to come. This is something that seems to be quite widely agreed in both church and society at large."
The Church of England was established as the official church in the 16th century, when King Henry VIII broke from the papacy and made himself the "supreme governor."
This system of state control is precisely what the founding fathers of the United States rejected. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is the first phrase in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In England, the monarch's influence on the church has waned, though technically Queen Elizabeth II will name the archbishop of Canterbury and thus the spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans and Episcopalians.
The real decision now starts with a Crown Appointments Commission -- partly elected by the Church of England and partly appointed by the government -- which nominates two candidates for the vacancy, one of whom may be confirmed by the prime minister. The prime minister may also ask the commission to think again.
The Right Rev. Colin Buchanan introduced a motion at the General Synod calling for an end to the government's power to choose bishops in favor of "more participatory and open church procedure."
He urged delegates to "take responsibility for ourselves, as a mature church, a church able to make its own decisions, a church able to find its own leaders."
The Right Rev. Peter Selby, bishop of Worcester, denounced the present system as "wrong in principle, ecumenically embarrassing and theologically indefensible."
Another delegate, Rev. Benny Hazlehurst, said a prime minister might be guided by political pressure. "In hard times for the government, the temptation might be to go for an uncontroversial candidate."
But that proved to be the minority view.
The Very Rev. Colin Slee, dean of Southwark Cathedral, noted that this was the 50th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth II.
"By rejecting this motion, (the) synod has a golden opportunity of showing its loyalty. The motion is a Trojan horse toward the disestablishment of the church, no matter what blandishments we might hear," Slee said.
Turnbull, the bishop of Durham, said the motion struck at the heart of "the established nature of the Church of England and its relationship with the state."
"It puts us on the fast track to unthreading the whole garment. It means capitulating to the whole concept of a secular state," Turnbull said.
Buchanan, who introduced the failed motion, said the fight isn't over. "Surely another stage in evolution is possible," he said. "If this is defeated now, it will come back again."
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