The main roles of the Archbishop of Canterbury
The various roles and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury have developed over more than 1400 years of history. The one constant is his ministry as a senior bishop, though the nature and purpose of his authority differs in different contexts
Historically the central role, and the source of the archbishop’s authority, is as Bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury (the local church of Canterbury. His diocese in East Kent has a population of 890,000 people and comprises 261 parishes in an area of nearly 1,000 square miles.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England (the ‘first bishop’ of England), and shares several roles with the Archbishop of York. For well over a thousand years the distinction of the Diocese of Canterbury has given its bishop formal responsibility as a ‘metropolitan’ – the first among the bishops of a region. He has authority (also known as ‘jurisdiction’) at all times in the 30 dioceses of his Province – 29 in southern England, and 1 in Continental Europe. York has the same roles in relation to the 14 dioceses of his Province.
Based on his oversight in the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury became the original sign of the unity of the bishops and local churches of the Anglican Communion – all 34 provinces in communion with See of Canterbury, a total of about 80 million members throughout the world which has developed over the last 200 years or so. He is the focus and spokesman of its unity today, but shares his oversight as president of the Communion with other bodies.
In the last two areas of dialogue and activity – Ecumenical relationships between Christian Churches, and Inter Religious relationships between different traditional world religions – the Archbishop has no formal authority. But his role in England and the UK, and his leadership in the Communion at large, give him significant influence and the responsibility to speak authoritatively for the faith and witness of the Church, the Anglican Church in particular.
(From notes issued by diocese of Ely 9 November 2012)