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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 03:14 GMT 04:14 UK
Challenging the Church's status
General Synod
Some want greater independence for church

Among the topics being debated by the General Synod, the parliament of the Church of England, few have such far-reaching implications as the debate over whether it should try to seize from Tony Blair, the right to choose its own bishops.

Pressure for change is building up, partly because people are uneasy about Tony Blair having the final say in choosing a successor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

A selection commission has produced a shortlist of two names, but Mr Blair could reject them both.

He has that power because of the church's historic legal entanglement with the state, known as establishment.

The Bishop of Woolwich, Colin Buchanan, told the Synod that a "more open and participatory" church would not be possible while the prime minister chose its bishops.

Marginalisation fears

But many of the delegates sitting in the stark, concrete theatre complex at the edge of a lake in the heart of York university's 1960s campus, were also warned that it would be the first step towards breaking the church/state relationship.

In a passionate speech, the Bishop of Durham Michael Turnbull said it was vital to protect the church's position as a state institution.

"The alternative is increasing marginalisation of religion, the shrinking of faith communities into ghettos and colluding with the increasing secularisation of society".

The Archbishop of Canterbury
Dr George Carey backs link between church and state
Even Anglicans who would like greater independence for the church are unwilling to risk its just becoming another denomination with no central role in the life of the nation and they voted about three-to-one against the proposal.

Dr Carey, who retires in October, had given unreserved support to the church's established status, describing it as an essential part of the constitution of the whole country.

However, Bishop Buchanan warned, like the issue of women priests, the question of government interference in the church, would not go away.

He may soon have a sympathiser at the highest level - the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams, who was reported to be the first choice of a selection commission as a successor to Dr Carey, would like the church to govern itself, without the Queen as its formal head.

Missionary role questioned

Even as it continues as a state institution, the C of E will no longer be bashful about seeking to convert members of other faiths.

The Synod voted in favour of a proposal put forward by a Birmingham vicar, the Rev. George Kovoor, that Anglicans should seek to share the Christian gospel with members of other faiths.

He said it was only God who could convert them.

It has become common to see other faiths as having an equally legitimate path to God and there has already been criticism from some Muslim leaders of an official policy that seeks to convert Muslims.

Dr Carey assured them that Anglicans would not be " thoughtlessly and insensitively targeting" Muslims to convert them to Christianity.

However, Mr Kovoor, described missionary work as a human rights issue.

He said failing to evangelise members of non-Christian faiths would be to discriminate against them.

The BBC's Robert Piggott
"Fashions change slowly in the world of Church clothing"

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