Is the British Monarch the ‘Defender of the Faith’ or ‘Faiths’?

RNS photo courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Elizabeth II greets NASA employees on her walk in Maryland. RNS photo courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia Commons


LONDON — As Britain awaits the appointment of the next archbishop of Canterbury to lead both the Church of England and the far-flung Anglican Communion, there's renewed attention on the woman who officially gets the final say: Queen Elizabeth II, the "Defender of the Faith."

The current archbishop, Rowan Williams, ends his 10-year tenure in December. A Church of England committee is sifting through candidates — two of whom will be submitted to Prime Minister David Cameron, whose top choice will be submitted to the queen for final approval.

When he announced his retirement last March, Williams, 62, famously said his successor will need "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.”

Politicians and religious leaders say the next archbishop will need those qualities and more to handle deep divisions in the British church over female bishops and North/South divisions among his 77 million-member global flock over sexuality.

But he'll also need something else: the ability to envision life when Elizabeth — who turns 87 next year  is no longer on the throne, and when Britain is no longer a Christian-majority country.