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From Eton to Paris and Nigeria

16 November 2012


In Brompton: Bishop Welby with the Revd Nicky Gumbel at the Alpha International conference in 2011

In Brompton: Bishop Welby with the Revd Nicky Gumbel at the Alpha International conference in 2011

Justin Welby was born in 1956 in London, to Gavin and Jane Welby. His father's family are believed to have been German Jewish immigrants, who moved to England to escape anti-Semitism in the late 19th century. Earlier this year, Bishop Welby recalled his father's telling him that he had sailed to New York as a teenager after the 1929 crash, and traded whisky.

"When I was studying history, the penny dropped that Prohibition ended in 1933. He had a lot of friends who had Italian ancestry, so he was bootlegging. He was illegally trading whisky," he told the Daily Mail.

Back in England, Gavin Welby married Jane Portal, private secretary to Winston Churchill, and niece of the Conservative politician Rab Butler. The couple divorced when their son was just two. Gavin died when Justin was 21.

Bishop Welby was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history and law. It was also where he came to faith, and met his wife Caroline, who was studying Classics.

For 11 years, five in Paris and six in London, he worked in the oil industry, becoming group treasurer of a large British exploration and production company, and focusing mainly on West African and North Sea projects.

In 1983, the Welbys' seven-month-old daughter Johanna died in a car crash in France. Last year, he told a newspaper that this was "a very dark time for my wife Caroline and myself, but in a strange way it actually brought us closer to God".

Between 1984 and 1989, he attended Holy Trinity, Brompton, where he became a lay leader. He had been baptised there as an infant, in 1956.

He first approached the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd John Hughes, to enquire about ordination in 1988, but was told: "There is no place for you in the Church of England." The Bishop was eventually persuaded, and in 1989 Bishop Welby started training for a degree in theology and diploma in ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham. His booklet Can Companies Sin? is based on his dissertation at the college.

After being ordained deacon in 1992, he spent 15 years in Coventry diocese. He served his title at All Saints', Chilvers Coton with St Mary the Virgin Astley, in Nuneaton.

In 1995, he became Rector of St James's, Southam, and also, the next year, of St Michael and All Angels, Ufton, the neighbouring parish. On Wednesday, a Reader who had trained under Bishop Welby during this time, said that several who attended Ufton had told him that he would be Archbishop of Canterbury one day.

A "first-rate" preacher, he was a "hugely likeable" person who "met people where they were and engaged with them in the pub, village hall, or wherever". He had managed to grow the congregation at St James's "without alienating anyone, but carried people with him, both the new and the old".

Between 2000 and 2002, Bishop Welby also chaired an NHS hospital trust in South Warwickshire. On Friday, he recalled a difficult meeting at the trust, after which he asked his wife to remind him what he had preached on the previous Sunday. "I said it wasn't very good, because it gave me no help at all today."

This had prompted him to appreciate "the need for speaking in a way that enables people to be with Jesus Christ in their daily life. . . Frankly, most bishops and clergy and other people do that much better than I do."

In 2002, Bishop Welby was made a Canon of Coventry Cathedral, where he joined the reconciliation work based there. In 2005, he was made Sub-Dean of Coventry Cathedral, and was also, for a time, Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity, Coventry.

With Canon Andrew White and Canon Stephen Davies, he worked extensively in Africa and the Middle East. In the Niger Delta, his reconciliation work led to encounters with armed groups. He told a newspaper this year that "it looked like I was going to get killed" on three occasions.

"I have sat down with murderers in Burundi," he said. "I even liked the bloke, though I knew he had killed tens of thousands of people. And you go away horrified that you like them."

On Friday, Canon White, now Anglican Chaplain in Iraq, said it was a "great privilege" to have had Bishop Welby, a "great and wonderful man of God", as "my closest colleague ever. . . The Anglican Communion is in for a very exciting time."

Bishop Welby was installed as Dean of Liverpool on 8 December 2007. Canon Anthony Hawley, who served at Liverpool Cathedral from 2002 until his retirement last year, said last week: "I quail for anybody who takes on the job [of Archbishop of Canterbury], but I'm sure he is the right man for the job."

He recalled Bishop Welby's hosting a Trades Union Congress rally against cuts, which "some might have thought risky". While he was there, the cathedral adopted a mission statement that included the phrase "a safe base to do risky things in Christ's service".

In 2009, the Church Times reported that Bishop Welby had agreed that "Imagine" by John Lennon could be rung on the cathedral bells (News, 22 May, 2009). As a result, he was accused of being the Antichrist in emails from around the globe.

Bishop Welby was, Canon Hawley said, "somebody who is not afraid to grasp the nettle and tackle difficult issues - conciliatory but a tough cookie". A "very deep Christian man" who went jogging first thing in the morning before reading his Bible and saying his prayers, Bishop Welby was also "hugely approachable" with a "delightful sense of humour".

It was revealed last week that Bishop Welby's staff is topped by a carving of a rock badger. It was presented to him as a leaving gift by the congregation of Liverpool Cathedral to remind him of a sermon he preached on Leviticus, in which a reference to the creature induced in him a fit of giggles.

On 2 June 2011, Bishop Welby was announced as the new Bishop of Durham, succeeding Dr Tom Wright. In his short time there, he secured the future of Bishop Auckland Castle and its prized Zurbarán paintings, in a deal with the financier David Ruffer. He also started to address poor church attendance in the diocese, as well as some of the social problems in the North East.

On Saturday, after the announcement of his new appointment, Bishop Welby said: "You can't leave Durham diocese happily. Nobody has in the past." He recalled the story of the Rt Revd Michael Ramsey, leaving to take up the post of Archbishop of York, seen weeping at Durham station; he predicted that "there will be tears about leaving Durham diocese from me personally. It will leave a great gap in my life."

Bishop Welby was appointed to sit on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in July, after the Libor rate-fixing scandal (News, 20 July). Last month, he spoke of the need to transform the banking sector from "the wreckage of a hubris-induced disaster, to retrieving its basic purpose of enabling human society to flourish effectively" (News, 2 November).

Bishop Welby and his wife have five children, aged between 16 and 27. On Friday, his daughter Katharine wrote on the social-media site Twitter: "WHAT THE.....!??!??! MY DAD is the new ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY???!! Nobody tells me nuffink. (grumbles to self in corner of office)."

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