Lobbying and positioning among groups and individuals in the Church of England has begun with the news that Dr Rowan Williams is vacating the post of Archbishop of Canterbury.
After some months of speculation, Dr Williams yesterday announced his acceptance of the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, with effect from January 2013.
He is therefore stepping down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury - leader of the Church of England and spiritual head of the 70 million strong worldwide Anglican Communion - at the end of December 2012.
Dr Williams’ intentions have been conveyed to The Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England in all matters spiritual and temporal, and who still formally appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the advice of a Crown Appointments Commission chaired by an appointee of the UK Prime Minister.
The anachronisms and questions about the maintenance of an attenuated 'state church' system through Establishment will once again come into the spotlight as the the media, observers and church members are reminded of the arcane appointments process.
Dr Williams was appointed the one hundred and fourth Archbishop of Canterbury back in 2002. He has sought to hold the Church and Communion together in the midst of deep and often acrimonious rifts about authority, sexuality, the interpretation of Scripture, the place of women, and much else in the life of the Church of England.
Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, is being seen by many as a leading contender to succeed Dr Williams, with a raft of other lesser known names being put into the arena by groups representing different streams of opinion, various labelled 'liberal', 'evangelical' and 'mainstream' by commentators.
There have been many warm words of appreciation for Dr Williams' intellect, humanity and prayerfulness from people of many backgrounds. But a number of conservative groups have continued to denounce him in less than charitable or gracious terms.
Dr Williams himself commented yesterday: "It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision. During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond. I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry. I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead."
Dr Williams will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury, both for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, until the end of 2012.
The Crown Nominations Commission will consider the selection of a successor in due course.