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Reconciler Welby to take over in Canterbury

16 November 2012

by staff reporters


Biography: From Eton to Paris and Nigeria
Bishop Welby's statement
Reactions to Bishop Welby's appointment

HIS initial reaction to a call from the Prime Minister's appointments secretary last week had been, he said, "Oh no!"

On Friday morning last week, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, appeared before the press at Lambeth Palace, more than 24 hours after the first reports of his appointment as Dr Williams's successor had been published. It was, he said, with a sense of irony, "the best-kept secret since the last Cabinet reshuffle".

The announcement brought to an end months of speculation about who might be the next Archbishop, which intensified in September after it was inferred that the Crown Nominations Commission had failed to agree on a candidate, at what was planned as its final meeting.

The length of the process favoured Bishop Welby's advancement. When Dr Williams announced his resignation in the spring (News, 16 March), to take up an academic position in Cambridge, Bishop Welby had been in post for a scant four months. Before then he had been Dean of Liverpool. But, as the months passed, other contenders appeared to fall out of favour, and he emerged as the favourite. On Wednesday, bookmakers suspended betting on the candidates after a sudden flurry of bets on Bishop Welby.

It is also possible that Bishop Welby's age - he is 56 - worked in his favour. Early favourites, including the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, are in their early 60s, and thus would be close to retirement - or technically beyond it - by the time of the next Lambeth Conference, in 2018, which traditionally takes place at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Bishop Welby, who worked in the financial branch of the oil industry for 11 years, until he sought ordination in 1988, was appointed to sit on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in July, after the Libor rate-fixing scandal (News, 20 July).

He has strong links with the Church in Nigeria, first in the oil industry, but latterly working in reconciliation. He estimates that he has visited the country about 60 times since 2002, work begun as a Canon of Coventry Cathedral.

On the previous Wednesday, Dr Williams had suggested that his successor should be someone who preaches "with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other". Dr Welby's press last week was favourable, including delight at the revelation that his father had traded whisky in the United States during the Prohibition era.

Speaking at Lambeth Palace on Friday, Bishop Welby gave a self-deprecating account of his career to date. 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."

But he said that he was "utterly optimistic" about the future of the Church, affirming 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 place".

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 endorsed 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". He does, however, oppose gay marriage. He referred to the position of the Church of England within the Anglican Communion: "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."

Of Dr Rowan Williams, whom he will succeed next March, Bishop 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".

He admitted to being "a bit of a geek" with regard to reading about economics. And he said that he would go on using Twitter unless somebody stopped him.

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 RC Church.

Yet 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 Christ".

Bishop Welby, who began his words with a 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".

Leader comment

Question of the week: Does Bishop Welby have the right credentials for Archbishop? 


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