The Election of a Primate: A Primer

By Sison, Marites N. | Anglican Journal, April 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Election of a Primate: A Primer

Sison, Marites N., Anglican Journal

WHEN MEMBERS of the 37th General Synod vote for a new primate on May 31, they will already have thought long and hard about who is right for the job of overseeing about 680,000 members and 1,800 parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Unlike past primatial elections where candidates were nominated and elected on the same day at General Synod, clergy and laity will now have more than a month to assess the qualifications of the nominees and to reflect on their choice.

Under new procedures adopted by the 1998 General Synod in Montreal, the house of bishops will meet between 30 and 120 days before the election to nominate candidates from their own ranks. Nominations for the election will take place during a house of bishops' meeting scheduled on April 15-19.

The nominations take place in closed session, according to Rev. Michael Thompson, principal secretary to the primate. Any active bishop (not retired) is eligible for nomination. "When one person has a majority, he or she becomes a nominee," he said. There should be at least three and up to five nominees.

Once the nominees are named, a package containing their biographical information will immediately be sent out to the approximately 310 General Synod delegates.

Bishop Terence Finlay of Toronto, who seconded the motion for new primatial election rules in 1998, had stated that the new procedure "meets the need for adequate advance information and for time for prayer." He said, however, that some feared that the early nominations could lead to "the U.S. pattern where people are actually campaigning."

Mr. Thompson said that while there are no provisions for candidates to campaign, it was inevitable for synod delegates to discuss their choices.

"There won't be lawn signs but people will talk," he said. "Candidates don't visit dioceses and give speeches; there are no provisions for that."

Under the old rules, an electoral synod was convened, after which the bishops met separately to nominate the candidates while the clergy and laity waited. Delegates had complained that the process left them little room to study and get to know the candidates.

While the bishops nominate the candidates, it is members of General Synod who elect the primate. The original constitution of the Anglican Church of Canada provided for the election of the primate by the house of bishops. That provision was revised in 1931.

The prolocutor of General Synod presides during the election. On the day of the election, General Synod will convene for a eucharist, after which the house of bishops will withdraw to another room and the clergy and laity will vote by ballot on the nominations made.

The name of any nominee who receives fewer than 10 per cent of the votes cast in each of the orders of the laity and clergy will be removed from the ballot before the next vote.

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