The growth of Anglican churches around the world could one day lead to the Archbishop of Canterbury coming from outside England.
A long-awaited report on the role of the Archbishop as leader of the Church of England accepts that most of the "growth and vitality" of Anglicanism has taken place outside Europe and that the Archbishop is no longer the "spiritual director" of the English people.
The admission came as research for the British Society for Population Studies revealed that Anglicans had become a minority of the English population for the first time since the Church of England was founded in 1534.
A Sheffield University academic, David Voas, said the number of baptised Anglicans had this year slipped to 23.94 million, below half the 48 million British nationals living in England. He said numbers would continue to drop at a rate of 200,000 a year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, admitted that Christianity was in a "missionary situation" in Europe and the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said that Christian churches were almost "vanquished" in England.
Speaking at the launch of a review of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Church of England yesterday, Lord Hurd of Westwell said the decline of the church in its native country might mean a radical rethink of its structures.
Demands for an archbishop to be appointed from outside England were growing, particularly in former colonies, he said."Some people speculate that one day the Archbishop of Canterbury might not be British. We have not heard the last of these ideas. Over our time-scale [10 years] the Archbishop of Canterbury will be British but it may not be so for ever; we never say never," Lord Hurd, the chairman of the review team, said.
The review was ordered by Dr Carey 18 months ago to look at his job's "vast" responsibilities and was expected to recommend ways to relieve him of routine duties so he could concentrate on an international role. With 25 million Anglicans in 164 countries across the world, the Church now has more members abroad than in its birthplace.
Dr Carey, who completed 10 years as Archbishop last April and is expected to retire on his 67th birthday late next year, said he asked for the review not because he was "exhausted or appealing for help" but because no one had scrutinised the job for three decades.
Lord Hurd said demands on the Archbishop were "overflowing" because of the need for leadership and guidance at home but "above all" because of the thriving Anglican provinces outside England. Their demand for visits from the leader of the Church had led to costs of the Archbishop's overseas travel tripling between 1990 and 2000.
The report said the Archbishop needed to lighten his workload but that could not be done at the expense of overseas congregations. "There can be no doubt that [the Archbishop's] first responsibility lies at home where his immediate jurisdiction lies. The clearer the Archbishop's leadership at home, the more effective will be his leadership of the whole communion. Yet the reverse is also true. Much of the growth and vitality of Anglicanism at present is happening in the younger churches. This needs encouragement; the interest, counsel and the personal presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury."
Lord Hurd said none of the Archbishop's roles could be abandoned so a large increase in delegation was the way to lessen his workload.
The report calls for that to be done by appointing a new chief of staff, who was unlikely to be a member of the clergy, at the Archbishop's headquarters at Lambeth Palace in London.
If the move is approved, Lambeth Palace would headhunt a senior executive from private industry or the public sector. Lord Hurd would not be drawn on salary but said the chosen applicant would need "adequate compensation".
The chief of staff would be responsible for co-ordinating policy across the Church of England, managing the Archbishop's diary, chairing weekly staff meetings and ensuring clear long-term planning.Reuse content