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Church closures during lockdown not my decision alone, says Archbishop Welby

18 February 2022

‘I’m not the Pope,’ he said in an interview in the Radio Times

ALAMY

Archbishop Welby with members of the House of Bishops during a choral eucharist in Westminster Abbey, in November, before the inauguration of the new General Synod

Archbishop Welby with members of the House of Bishops during a choral eucharist in Westminster Abbey, in November, before the inauguration of the new ...

THE decision to close churches during the first lockdown in 2020 was not up to him alone, the Archbishop of Canterbury said this week. “I’m not the Pope,” he declared in an interview in the Radio Times.

The decision to shut churches for the period that included Easter was a collective one involving senior clergy, he said. “It wasn’t just me. It’s not a dictatorship,” he said; but he admitted that he did have an influence, “and I’m not sure I got that right.”

Archbishop Welby has been accused of denying parishioners the opportunity to worship, and banning clergy from entering churches to stream services or even to light candles. Some clerics flouted the ban by continuing to broadcast live worship from inside their buildings.

The policy changed later, when the second lockdown came in November 2020, and the Archbishop has since admitted that he would now take a different approach. “If I had the time again, I would be more cautious about closing the churches,” he told the Radio Times. “At the time, we were being told the virus can stay on surfaces for ages, and that it could kill 30 per cent of the people who caught it.”

In a wide-ranging conversation before his six-part series, The Archbishop Interviews, begins on Radio 4 on Sunday, he admitted that he had concerns for the future of the Church in an increasingly secular age. He sometimes wonders: “Am I going to be the one who they’ll say finished the Church of England off? None of us want to see the thing go down on our watch.”

He also revealed that, even though his wife and daughter were keen fans of the TV show The Great British Bake Off, he is not. “I think it’s the modern equivalent of gladiatorial games,” he said. He disliked the way in which losing contestants were “thrown out”.

He preferred a crime drama, and described himself as a “news junkie”, recently enjoying the the Radio 4 series The Coming Storm: an examination by the journalist Gabriel Gatehouse of America’s QAnon conspiracy theory. “What’s happening there is so important, so interesting, so unclear, and so easy to disparage,” he said.

The Archbishop’s Radio 4 interviews will include Sir Tony Blair, the author Stephen King, and the British-Turkish novelist and political scientist Elif Shafak. He said that he hoped that they might give listeners “the curiosity to look at others who are different to them, to wonder who they might truly be, and how we might build relationships that cross divides. I pray it would be an encouragement to each of us to have conversations that seek to understand and know one another more fully.”

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