HIS initial reaction to a call from the Prime Minister's
appointments secretary last week had, he said, been "Oh no!"
Making his first public appearance since accepting the Crown's
nomination as the next Archbishop of Canterbury (he has still to be
elected by the Dean and Chapter of Catnerbury), the Bishop of
Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, gave a self-deprecating account
of his career to date, but said that he was "utterly optimistic"
about the future of the Church of England.
Despite the commentary surrounding his appointment, which has
referred to dwindling congregations and internal division,
confidence was a key theme of Bishop Welby's statement, which was
rooted in an affirmation of the "unsung heroes" of the 16,000
churches of the Church of England.
The Church was "at one of those rare points where the tide of
events is turning," he said. In a "time of spiritual hunger", the
Church's parishes, churches and schools and "above all people"
meant that it was "facing the toughest issues in the toughest
Although mistakes were inevitable, "we will also certainly get
much right and do so already." While there were millions of people
in England "who have no connection to the church", there were also
growing churches, such as those in the dioceses of London and
Liverpool: "a lot of what we need to do is already being done."
There was also recognition of the "very hard issues" that
confront the Church of England today. His past experience in
conflict resolution and reconciliation, expounded on in the
question-and-answer session, could perhaps be discerned in his
statement. He would be voting in favour of the ordination of women
as bishops at the forthcoming General Synod, he said; but he had
seen "remarkable signs of God's grace and action" in the ministries
of those who could not accept this development.
Bishop Welby affirmed civil partnerships, stating that it was
"absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of
people co-habiting in different forms of relationship". The Church
of England must have "no truck with homophobia". His defence of the
House of Bishops' submission to the Government's consultation on
same-sex marriage was rooted in a reference to the position of the
Church of England within the Anglican Communion rather than a
personal conviction about the proposed legislation or the arguments
about the institution of marriage set out by the House: "What the
Church does here deeply affects the already greatly suffering
churches in places like northern Nigeria."
He spoke of an awareness that he must "listen very attentively
to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully
and carefully. I am always averse to the language of exclusion,
when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus
Christ loves us. Above all, in the Church, we need to create safe
spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love."
Of Dr Rowan Williams, whom he will succeed next March, Dr Welby
said that he was "one of the world's principal theologians and
philosophers", who "will be recognised as one of the greatest
Archbishops of Canterbury. . . On the basis that you should only
follow failures, this is a great mistake."
The work of the Church of England was done, he said, not
primarily on television or at Lambeth Palace, but in the 16,000
churches, "where hundreds of thousands of people get on with the
job they have always done of loving neighbour, loving each other,
and giving more than 22 million hours of voluntary service outside
the church a month". He had "never had demands on me as acute as
when I was a parish priest".
He was enthroned as Bishop of Durham on 26 November last year,
and it is only ten years ago that he was the Rector of Southam, in
Although much has been made of his career in finance in the oil
sector, he was wary of "exaggerating" the value of his career
outside the Church, arguing that "what we are really about is God,
and God's love in Jesus Christ". His "horrendously bad" personal
experience of investment meant that the Church of England should be
relieved that he had no control over its finances. "Otherwise our
position would be really abysmal."
He recognised, however, the value of having worked "in a world
where the Church was felt by many to be completely irrelevant", and
the importance of "speaking in a way that enables people to be with
Jesus Christ in their daily life". He admitted to being "a bit of a
geek" with regard to reading about economics.
A Benedictine Oblate for the past 15 years, he referred to the
"treasures of contemplative prayer and adoration" and the "rich and
challenging social teaching" of the Roman Catholic Church. Asked
about Cardinal Newman, he suggested that "you would have to be
complete idiot not to be influenced" by the theologian.
In a year in which Churches have rejected the Anglican Covenant
put forward by Dr Williams as a means of preserving unity, Bishop
Welby suggested that the Anglican Communion remained, "for all its
difficulties, . . . a source of remarkable blessing to the world .
. . one of the main sharers of reconciliation and hope in Jesus
Bishop Welby, who began his words with a short prayer, said that
he hoped that he was defined not by his education at Eton, of which
much had been made in the press, but "because I love and follow
Jesus Christ". His background was perhaps evident in that "I have a
better barber and spend more on razors than Rowan Williams".