Justin Welby has a strong background in business and conflict resolution.
(Staff) A FORMER OIL executive with experience in conflict resolution has been chosen to lead the global Anglican Communion.
On Nov. 9th Prime Minister David Cameron announced the appointment of Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. This caps a meteoric rise in the Church of England hierarchy since Welby quit the oil business and was ordained in 1992.
At 56, Welby, a priest with only a year’s experience as a bishop, will succeed Rowan Williams as head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the world’s estimated 77 million Anglicans. Welby will be the 105th holder of an office that stretches back to the 6th century. The Queen has approved the nomination and he will be enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21st.
Bishop Welby said he felt privileged, and astonished, to be chosen to lead the church. “It’s something I never expected,” Welby told reporters, saying he had been “overwhelmed and surprised” to be offered the job.
At a news conference which Bishop Welby opened with a brief prayer, he said: “I feel a massive sense of privilege at being one of those responsible for the leadership of the church, in a time of spiritual hunger, when our network of parishes and churches and schools and above all people means that we are facing the toughest issues in the toughest places.
“It’s exciting, because I believe that we are at one of those rare points, where the tide of events is turning, and the church nationally including the Church of England has great opportunities to match its very great, but often hidden strengths.”
Bishop Welby is regarded as an evangelical conservative in opposing same-sex marriage, but he takes a more liberal position on the ordination of female bishops. He told reporters that, at a forthcoming synod, he would vote in favour of the ordination of women bishops.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, he said: “We must have no truck with any form of homophobia.” But he made clear that he supported a statement earlier this year by Anglican bishops opposing government plans to legalize same-sex marriage. And he noted: “What the church does here [in England] deeply affects the already greatly suffering churches in places ... like Nigeria.”
Although the actual selection process by a church commission was held in secret, it is generally thought that the three other leading contenders were the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu; the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Jones; and the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.
Mid-career shift & mediation
Bishop Welby was educated at Eton and studied law and history at Cambridge before working for 11 years in the treasury departments of the French Elf Aquitaine oil company and later of a British exploration company, Enterprise Oil.
In a media interview in September Bishop Welby said he had abandoned the oil industry in 1989 in favour of the Church because he was “unable to get away from a sense of God calling.” He continued: “During my time there I came to realize there was a gap between what I thought, believed and felt was right in my non-work life and what went on at work.”
His dissertation in theological college was published under the title “Can companies sin?” He concluded they could.
“I don’t believe in good human beings,” the Bishop said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in July. “But I believe you can have structuress that make it easier to make the right choice or the wrong choice.”
The Archbishop-designate told of being interviewed by a bishop who asked why he wanted to be a priest. “I said: ‘I don’t, but I can’t get away from the feeling it is the right thing to do.” ’
His first child – a 7-month-old daughter, Johanna – was killed in a car crash in 1983. “It was a very dark time for my wife, Caroline, and myself, but in a strange way it actually brought us closer to God.” He and his wife of thirty years have five other children as well as a baby granddaughter. Caroline studied classics at Cambridge.
Welby’s parents separated when he was young: his father had been a bootlegger in the United States during Prohibition while his mother was Winston Churchill’s private secretary.
Following ordination in 1993 Welby was a parish priest for nine years before moving to Coventry Cathedral. In 2005, he became co-director of the cathedral’s conflict resolution ministry in Africa, where he had had experience in the oil industry.
He has spoken of having to “establish relationships with killers and with the families of their victims, with arms smugglers, corrupt officials and more.”
He has led church organizations devoted to mediation and reconciliation in several conflict zones: northern Nigeria, Kenya, Burundi but also the Middle East. He said that the experience had given him a “passion for reconciliation.” His visits to Africa also gave him firsthand contact with African Anglicans who are generally held to be far more conservative on theological and social issues than some of their Western counterparts.
In 2007 he was appointed dean of Liverpool Cathedral, Britain’s largest church, and in November last year he was elevated to Durham, the fourth-ranking bishopric in the Church of England.
Bishop Welby is known to be an opponent of corporate excess. Earlier this year, he was appointed to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which is examining possible reforms of the industry, and he serves as ethical adviser to the Association of Corporate Treasurers. As the Archbishop of Canterbury he would remain on the parliamentary panel examining banking ethics.
Bishop Welby has denounced multi-million dollar executive pay packages in big British companies as “obscene” and has said the Occupy movement “reflects a deep-seated sense that something is wrong.” His views on corporate responsibility, he has said, “came out of working in an extractive industry, often in developing countries, where ethical questions were very frequent.”
He himself said in an interview in The Treasurer, the magazine of the Association of Corporate Treasurers: “Treasury teaches you to be decisive. Markets don’t allow you to hang about and vacillate. And a treasury teaches you about teamwork and working collaboratively.”
His experience both in business and conflict resolution contrasts sharply with his predecessor’s background as a theologian and poet. Williams, who retires in December after ten years in office, once remarked that his successor would need the “constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros.” Many think the next Archbishop of Canterbury’s experience of tough negotiation and deal-making in business will stand him in good stead.
You can read the Archbishop-designate’s first press statement at www.anglicanplanet.net. TAP