Hopes and gratitude for incoming, outgoing archbishops of Canterbury

By Matthew Davies
Posted Nov 9, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury-designate Justin Welby smiles during a news conference at Lambeth Palace in London. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] The Nov. 9 news that the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby was named the next archbishop of Canterbury has generated reactions from many corners of the Anglican Communion, the global body of 38 provinces that the bishop of Durham, England, and former oil executive has been called to lead spiritually.

During a Nov. 9 press conference at Lambeth Palace, Welby told media that he wanted the church to be a place where people could disagree in love and that he was averse to the language of exclusion.

An active user of Twitter, he said that he intended to continue to use social media as a means of communication.

As the 105th archbishop in a succession spanning more than 1,400 years, Welby will assume the multifaceted role of spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, primate of All England and bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, upon his enthronement March 21, 2013.

Many Episcopalians have welcomed the news, expressing enthusiasm for Welby’s appointment and appreciation for incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ leadership during the past 10 years.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she was “delighted” to hear the news, adding that Welby “brings knowledge of the immense challenges of the world in which the Anglican Communion seeks to partner in the service of God’s mission to heal and reconcile.”

Welby has experience of churches in several parts of the Anglican Communion, “which should serve him well,” said Jefferts Schori, who recently returned from New Zealand and a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion’s main policy-making body.

“I give thanks for his appointment and his willingness to accept this work, in which I know his gifts of reconciliation and discernment will be abundantly tested,” she said. “May God bless his ministry, shelter his family and bring comfort in the midst of difficult and lonely discernment and decisions.”

President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, who also represented the Episcopal Church at the ACC meeting, told ENS that she had left every international gathering of Anglicans that she had attended with the same conviction: Most people in the Anglican Communion are eager “to work together for the sake of the gospel, whatever our difference over specific theological points.

“We need an archbishop of Canterbury who wants to facilitate that cooperation and encourage the partnerships that are waiting to be born,” she said.

Welby “is held in high regard” by Episcopalians who know him well, Jennings said.

“As a conflict negotiator, he has demonstrated extraordinary courage and unusual skill in persuading people with far greater differences than those within the Anglican Communion to work together and to reconcile,” she said. “This gives me hope that he is the right person for this challenging moment in the Anglican Communion’s history.”

Strength of varied background cited
Church of England bishops are appointed rather than elected, with a 16-member Crown Nominations Commission putting forward two names — a preferred candidate and a second candidate — to the United Kingdom prime minister. He then seeks approval from the British monarch, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England.

Before his ordination to the priesthood in 1992, Welby studied law and history at Cambridge University and then spent 11 years as an executive in the oil industry. After a decade in parish ministry, he was appointed a canon residentiary, and later sub-dean, of Coventry Cathedral. He served as dean of Liverpool Cathedral from 2007-2011.

As bishop of Durham, the fourth most-senior position in the Church of England to which he was consecrated in October 2011, Welby automatically is granted a seat in the House of Lords.

Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe called the appointment “a judicious one,” citing Welby’s “wide and varied background that will serve him well as archbishop of Canterbury, both within the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.”

Welby “will take an evenhanded approach to the provinces of the communion,” Whalon told ENS.

He also brings useful new skills to the role, said the Rev. Marek Zabriskie, rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

“Because of his background as a successful businessman in the oil industry, I believe that he will bring fresh skills to the role of archbishop of Canterbury, including strategic planning,” he told ENS. “This is something that has been desperately needed in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion, and it is something that few if any of his predecessors have brought to the See of Canterbury before.”

Zabriskie met with Welby during a recent visit to the United Kingdom as part of a tour to promote and raise awareness of the Bible Challenge, an initiative that encourages and facilitates reading the entire Bible in one year. Both Welby and Williams have supported the initiative.

“Bishop Welby is a strong believer in regular Bible reading,” Zabriskie said, “as this is how he came to his own faith later in life – through reading the Scriptures and attending church at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton,” birthplace of the Alpha Course, which seeks to offer people a way to explore the Christian faith more deeply.

While Welby “is inclined towards the evangelical side of the church,” Zabriskie said, the archbishop-designate “seems to wear the designation lightly so as not to be type-cast in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as a member of only one particular branch of the larger church.”

When Zabriskie asked Welby about his candidacy and being considered for the post, he responded, “It’s a very difficult job … I pity the man who has to shoulder the responsibility. It will take a great deal of prayer and enormous efforts to carry out the role.”

The Rev. Lee Alison Crawford, canon missioner of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador and a former member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, said she hoped that Welby would continue his predecessor Williams’ commitment to tackling issues of social and economic justice.

“Archbishop Williams recognized that engagement in the social and political realms complements the gospel imperative to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoner and free the captive,” Crawford, an Episcopal priest based in Vermont, told ENS. “May Bishop Welby continue his work of reconciliation, bringing together all voices to the table for the difficult but essential conversations the Anglican Communion must have on ecclesiology, mission, proclamation of the gospel and a changing world, and how those changes affect people’s understanding of what it means to be human and how we are all interconnected and interdependent.”

Crawford said she also hoped Welby would encourage the Anglican Communion “to take some risks and move beyond the status quo.

“I pray he can bring together the many facets of the Anglican Communion — a rich, diverse and unified, but not uniform, body — through his proclamation of the gospel message of Christ’s love for all.”

In March 2012, Welby attended the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops as an international guest. In his remarks at the close of the meeting, he said the indaba conversations the bishops had engaged throughout the meeting facilitated generosity and clarity and that he would leave the meeting with a “‘deeper understanding of different contexts and realities.”

After having met Welby and shared lunch with him during that meeting, Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana told ENS the bishop impressed him on several levels.

“He’s very perceptive of the challenges facing the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, and has a good grasp of both the issues and the complexity of the struggle,” said Little. “At the same time, he is enormously engaging, with a wonderful sense of humor and real warmth. He’s a deeply committed Christian with deep faith and a ‘sparkle’ in his eye. He will, I believe, be able to reach out to disparate elements both within his own church and throughout the communion.”

Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas, who serves on the ACC and as a member of the Anglican Communion Standing Committee, said that he had found Welby “to be a faithful and forward-looking Christian leader dedicated to God’s mission of reconciliation.

“His varied experience will give him a broad base from which to lead an increasingly diverse and changing church and Anglican Communion in the 21st century,” he said. “I very much look forward to working alongside Bishop Welby on the standing committee.”

Diocese of Springfield Bishop Daniel Martins said that he found Welby to be “intelligent, disarmingly transparent, politically savvy and with excellent ‘people skills.’

“I believe his pastoral and administrative instincts will make him a blessing to the diocese and province of Canterbury, and his ability to deal effectively with people will serve him well as he engages the monumental challenges facing the Anglican Communion,” Martins, who interviewed Welby soon after he visited the House of Bishops meeting, told ENS.

When Martins asked him at the time how he hoped to be best known, in headlines or otherwise, Welby responded that his main ambition “would be not to be too much in the headlines at all, as given the state of the British press it would probably mean I had done something immensely stupid.”

But if he had to be in the headlines, Welby said, he hoped it would be for the church growing in numbers and in spiritual depth, for working effectively with those on the margins of society, adding that he would like to be known “as a bishop who cared about God and cared about the people.”

Following the Nov. 9 announcement, Welby said: “I don’t think anyone could be more surprised than me at the outcome of this process. It has been an experience, reading more about me than I knew myself. To be nominated to Canterbury is at the same time overwhelming and astonishing. It is overwhelming because of those I follow, and the responsibility it has. It is astonishing because it is something I never expected to happen.”

Williams said in a Nov. 9 statement that he was “delighted at the appointment … I have had the privilege of working closely with [Welby] on various occasions and have always been enriched and encouraged by the experience.

“He has an extraordinary range of skills and is a person of grace, patience, wisdom and humor. He will bring to this office both a rich pastoral experience and a keen sense of international priorities, for church and world. I wish him – Caroline and the family – every blessing, and hope that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion will share my pleasure at this appointment and support him with prayer and love.”

Welby and his wife, Caroline, have five children, aged 16-27.

Among the messages that flooded in from around the Anglican Communion at news of Welby’s appointment was a statement from the Most Rev. David Chillingworth, primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, saying that Welby “brings to this task a wonderful range of gifts — spiritual, relational and intellectual — as well as his varied life experience.”

Gratitude for Williams’ leadership
Welby, 56, will succeed Williams, who will step down at the end of the year after serving as the 104th archbishop of Canterbury since February 2003. Williams has accepted a new post as master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and will begin in that role in January.

Williams has led the Anglican Communion through some turbulent times, trying to bind together – despite some deeply held theological and cultural differences – Anglicans in more than 165 countries.

During the past 10 years, Europe’s Episcopal Bishop Whalon said he has come to consider Williams a friend.

“The ministry he has exercised as archbishop will be, I believe, seen in the future in much clearer light than today, and his vital contributions to the life and ministry of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England will be recognized,” said Whalon, who is based is Paris and oversees the Episcopal Church’s congregations and ministries throughout France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Poland.

Williams, as primate of All England, also has led congregations throughout the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe.

“In our churches in Europe we have prayed for him every Sunday, so he goes forth to his new ministry with our very best wishes,” said Whalon.

House of Deputies President Jennings called Williams “a deeply faithful person of prayer who served during a difficult time in the life of the communion.”

During the ACC meeting, Jennings said, she “was particularly impressed by his passion for justice and peace and his deep respect for the dignity and worth of every human being.

“The church will be blessed by his continuing theological reflection and writing in the coming years.”

Of his several encounters of Williams, Indiana’s Bishop Little said, one memory that stands out comes from the first days of the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops that were devoted to a retreat in Canterbury Cathedral.

“For two days, the bishops had the cathedral to themselves — no tourists — and Archbishop Rowan led us in a time of reflection. It was a wonderfully enriching experience: encountering Christ, encountering one another, pondering our ministries,” Little said. “He has brought to the archiepiscopal office the gifts of teaching and pastoral service on behalf of the body of Christ. In a contentious era, he has striven for reconciliation, and has given himself tirelessly to that ministry. His love for Jesus and his devotion to the unity of the church are gifts for which I praise God.”

Williams has just returned from two weeks in New Zealand, where he presided over his final meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Asked at the ACC’s closing press briefing about the characteristics needed in the next archbishop of Canterbury, Williams quoted Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth: “You have to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

“You have to be cross-referencing all the time, saying, ‘How does the vision of humanity in community that’s put before us in the Bible map onto these issues of poverty, privation and violence and conflict?’” Williams said. “And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions you put to the Bible. So, I think somebody who likes reading the Bible and likes reading the newspaper would be a good start.”

Josephine Hicks, the Episcopal Church’s lay member of the ACC, said that Williams’ lasting legacy would be “that the Anglican Communion held together in spite of deep divisions that threatened to tear it apart for most of his time in office.”

An equally important legacy, she said, is that he returned the Lambeth Conference to its original purpose of consultation, worship, prayer and relationship building, “rather than what had become politically driven decision making. I am thrilled that the last ACC meeting focused on peace and justice issues, Bible in the Life of the Church, Continuing Indaba and mission, rather than divisive issues.”

Connecticut’s Bishop Douglas described it as “an incredible privilege and joy” to work alongside Williams on the Anglican Consultative Council and as a member of the Design Group for the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

“I thank God for the gift of Archbishop Rowan,” he said. “He has led the Anglican Communion and the Church of England from a place of deep prayer, profound wisdom, and a generous spirit.”

Under Welby’s leadership, Hicks said, she hopes the Anglican Communion “will continue to move forward in mission and ministry, not ignoring difficult or divisive issues, but discussing them in ways that help us understand each other and learn from each other and move toward consensus rather than reaching decisions with winners and losers — decisions that would marginalize one ‘side’ or the other.”

The transition from Williams to Welby, Zabriskie noted, means “replacing a liberal catholic theologian of the highest order, who possesses an almost photographic memory … with an evangelical, latecomer to the Christian faith, who is almost completely unknown as a theologian … and is known first and foremost as a manager and a strategic thinker with a strong understanding of finances and a gift for diplomacy and reconciliation.

“His gifts might be just what we need at this time, but only time will tell.”

— Matthew Davies is an editor and reporter with  the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (3)

  1. Rev. William Underhill says:

    Sounds like a great choice. May God sustain and inform him in that awsome new ministry.

  2. Julian MalaKar says:

    He seems to be full of the Spirit and wisdom qualified leading the turbulent Anglican sea.
    May God bless him and his family.

  3. Robert Waters says:

    Great. Our prayers from the USA are with you. May God Bless you.

    I am from ST. HILARY’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH in Hesperia, California , USA

Comments are closed.