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Persevere with the Church’s internal work, despite world situation, Welby tells Synod

23 February 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivers his presidential address

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivers his presidential address

CONFLICT and God’s faithfulness in the face of its horrors were the key themes of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address at the opening of the General Synod in Westminster on Friday afternoon.

Archbishop Welby began his presidential address by quoting the UN secretary-general, António Guterres: “The world is coming off its hinges.”

He referred to conflicts and consequent humanitarian crises in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar, as well as tensions in Pakistan, the Philippines, Mozambique, and the Korean peninsula, and on the United States’ southern border.

“We live in a world of suffering,” he said, but in the face of such suffering, he suggested, the Church should not shy away from its work, including its internal struggles.

He quoted the former Bishop of Chichester George Bell, who, on the eve of the Second World War, said that, in times such as these, the Church should be “even more the Church”.

“God does not abandon his Church of today, wherever it wanders. He searches and finds and carries back,” the Archbishop said. “Suffering is normal, but God is faithful, and we are called to be faithful people.”

Earlier this month, Archbishop Welby had quoted Bell in a meeting of church leaders in Kyiv, in the course of a five-day pastoral visit to Ukraine (News, 14 February).

“In Europe, the Ukrainian-Russian war is frozen . . . and the suffering of the people in Ukraine is increased, not least because it has been replaced as the principal concern by the havoc and horror of the Levant, and all that is going on in that area,” the Archbishop said on Friday, and referred to next Tuesday afternoon’s planned Synod debate on the war.

The absence of a comparable debate on Gaza was highlighted by protesters, standing outside Church House as Synod members arrived for the opening session there. The protesters criticised the Archbishop for not meeting the Revd Dr Munther Isaac, a Palestinian pastor currently visiting the UK from Bethlehem (News, 21 February).

Criticism of the Church and figures within it was often vociferous, and “expressions of hatred” came often from within the Church, Archbishop Welby said. “We need to assume the best rather than the worst,” he suggested. “Suffering and enemies are faced best in communities with trust across the divide rather than in self-protecting and reinforcing huddles.”

At the end of his address, which was met with applause, Archbishop Welby presented the Canterbury Cross for services to the Church of England to the Church Commissioners’ chief investment officer, Tom Joy, who is moving to a new job overseas (Interview, 23 February; News, 19 January).

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