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UK >

On handling the press

Paul Handley

by Paul Handley

Posted: 09 Nov 2012 @ 03:19

WHEN Bishop Welby walked into the Guard Room at Lambeth Palace shortly after 11 o'clock on Friday, somebody towards the back began to clap - then stopped when he or she realised that none of the other members of the assembled press were about to join in.

Half an hour later, when the Archbishop-designate left the room, there was much more warmth in the applause. It wasn't overwhelming - press people aren't the applauding sort - but it was an expression of genuine admiration for the way that he had handled what to almost anyone else would have been a paralysing experience.

He began with a prayer, as Rowan Williams had done ten years earlier; but God kept coming back into his answers throughout the Q and A session. He dealt with women bishops and homosexuality in his opening statement, in order to get the subjects out of the way in his terms, which were decided on the issue of women bishops, and at least open to friendly interpretation on homosexuality ("I know I need to . . . examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully").

Several things impressed the press: the courtesy with which he took the questions from around the room; the gentle humour that appeared from time to time; the self-deprecation that is already being seen as an essential part of his style.

But above all it was his professionalism that people noticed - not only in what he said, such as in the careful mentioning of the bishops (and, looked at in a different light, disappointed rivals), whom he had had the "great privilege" of service - but also in what he was careful not to say. There were no blunders, no hostages to fortune. He playfully refrained from name-checking the Financial Times; he spoke of his schooling without mentioning Eton and thus providing a soundbite that might be used later.

And he was "utterly optimistic" about the Church, realistic about agreement (he spoke about his work in reconciliation in Nigeria, encouraging people to "continue to differ passionately but without violence", a useful skill for the C of E), and committed to unity: Jesus's prayer for the unity of the disciples in St John's Gospel was, he said, one of his "greatest influnces."

In future, of course, the press will be less sympathetic. But for the time being, even the Mail seemed to like him.

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