Editorial | Dr Howard Gregory falls short
Howard Gregory, the Anglican archbishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Island and head of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, is a thoughtful and progressive theologian, whose campaigns for social justice often include an insistence on transparency and openness from governments.
That, in part, is why we are surprised, and chagrined, at Dr Gregory’s reluctance at full transparency in recent matters of church politics; to wit, his failure to have his preferred candidate elected as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston at last week’s synod of the local church. We do not know the vote count.
The post became vacant with the retirement last September of Bishop Robert Thompson. Kingston is the largest, and most influential, of the diocese’s archdeaconries, which strengthens the authority of any bishop who oversees it. Further, the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston is effectively the number two man in the diocese. That, if he has the ambition, gives the person who sits in the seat an advantage in any future contest for the top job. Which, we suspect, is part of the background noise to last week’s deadlocked vote.
Archbishop Gregory is 70. He is likely to retire within five years. So his nomination of Canon Garth Minott, a man in his 50s, to be Suffragan Bishop of Kingston would likely be interpreted as an anointing of an heir apparent. The problem, though, is that the election of a bishop requires a two-thirds vote in both the house of the clergy and the house of the laity, the legislative arms of Anglican governance.
Canon Minott apparently cleared the hurdle among lay members. However, even after over two rounds of voting he did not clear the bar with his fellow priests. This information, however, is not gospel. Specifics about the election have not been formally revealed by either the diocese or Archbishop Gregory. It, however, has been unofficially reported that Canon Minott fell just shy of the 60 votes he needed, from around 90 clergy, to be endorsed. He apparently lost votes among the laity in the second round of balloting, although in each of the two rounds he cleared the two-thirds threshold.
APPRECIATED POLITICS OF DEVELOPMENT
To be fair to Dr Gregory, he appreciated the politics of the development, both as a statement on the limits of his personal authority and what it might imply about wider ambitions.
“You would expect that who you nominate would be elected…,” he told this newspaper. “Let’s put it this way, ... if the boss says to you, ‘Choose somebody to work with you’, you want to make sure that you look at the best qualities that would best fit what you need to be done and who you think you can work with. So, that’s what I exercised.”
Except that in this case, not sufficient of the professional staff agreed with the boss.
“Like any organisation, there can be persons who can be interested (in the post); there are persons who think somebody else should (get the job),” the archbishop explained. “The age thing comes into play because, of course, he (Canon Minott) was younger than some of the other senior clergy.”
We make two observations in the context of the Archbishop Gregory’s usual engagement of the wider society.
First, while we welcome his analysis of the events, it is hard to fathom why he believes that the specific number of votes cast for a candidate should be secret. That is not in the tradition of the Anglican communion. Neither is it, given his history, what we would expect of Dr Gregory. Nor does it encourage the transparency we expect in our institutions.
People do not need to know who voted how, but global numbers provide signals as to prevailing sentiments. Moreover, the church is not a private club, it ought to be a fully transparent institution bequeathed to all, if we understand these matters, by God.
Finally, the outcome of the election suggests either absence of due diligence by the archbishop or a misreading of the political winds. As he said, you would expect the boss’ man to have an easy ride.