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Candidates for Cantuar: Justin Welby

Justin Portal Welby was destined by his DNA for leadership. I realise I shall be howled down for that statement, but think about it. There are two sorts of Etonians: on the one hand the Bullingdon Club cadets and, on the other,  those ‘tranquilly conscious of an effortless superiority’ . Justin Welby is the archetypal self-deprecating Old Etonian, one of those who never say they went to Eton but only that they went to ‘school’. Giles Fraser, no boot-licker of the gentry, reports:

“Lets be clear, I’m one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England,” he tells me. I’m not taken in by this disarming self-deprecation – something for which Old Etonians like him are not especially noted.1 No, there is nothing remotely thick about Bishop Welby. Which is one of the reasons why he has just been asked to be a member of the new Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards looking into the Libor fixing scandal. That, and his background in the City. For, despite a faintly Mr Bean-like appearance, the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England is no otherworldly bumbler. Until his ordination in 1992, he was a senior executive in the oil industry for 11 years.

“I drifted into it because I couldn’t get a job when I left university, and I ended up working for Elf in France in their international finance team. They needed someone who could speak English and didn’t know anything about anything, so they could shape them.” More self-deprecation. In fact, he read law and economic history at Cambridge – hardly a position of total ignorance. “I stumbled into the first thing in my life that I was reasonably good at, and ended up being group treasurer in a company called Enterprise Oil PLC.”

Early Life

Justin Welby was born in London on 6 January 1956 to Gavin Bramhall Welby and his wife, Jane Gillian Portal.  He is almost certainly related to the Lincolnshire Welbys on his father’s side, and is definitely related to them through his mother and the Portal family. 3

After Eton, he read history and law at Trinity College, Cambridge before going into the oil industry. During this time, he was also a lay leader at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Justin is married to Caroline. They have five children and one who died in infancy in a road accident.


In the interests of space, we will once again look to the inestimable Crockford’s for his clerical career:

St Jo Coll Dur BA91 Hon FCT. Cranmer Hall Dur 89. d 92 p 93 c 11. C Chilvers Coton w Astley Cov 92-95; R Southam 95-02; V Ufton 96-02; Can Res Cov Cathl 02-07; Co-Dir Internat Min 02-05; Sub-Dean 05-07; P-in-c Cov H Trin 07; Dean Liv 07-11; Bp Dur from 11


Welby has written widely on ethics and on finance, featuring in books such as Managing the Church?: Order and Organization in a Secular Age and Explorations in Financial Ethics. He also wrote a book entitled Can Companies Sin?: “Whether”, “How” and “Who” in Company Accountability (Grove Books, 1992)



Nobody  that I can find has pinned Bishop Justin down with a label as to his churchmanship, not even Giles Fraser in his Guardian interview in July.

“I have tried to avoid saying anything,” he admits at the end of the interview. Well, I’m not sure he succeeded. On many levels he seems like a central-casting Church of England bishop. On the subject of women bishops he speaks of the need to square the circle, reconciling those who think it a theological necessity and those who think it a theological impossibility. How do you do this? “Well, you just look at the circle and say it’s a circle with sharp bits on it.”

I laugh. So does he. And on this note he heads off to a large glass City tower to talk about ethical investment. Should be a doddle for a man who can imagine a square circle. Indeed, it’s probably just the sort of imaginative power we could do with from the next archbishop of Canterbury. There is quite a lot on which I would disagree with the Bishop of Durham. But with regards to being the archbishop, he would get my vote.

Leap in the dark assessment

I agree with Giles: Bishop Justin would get my vote as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Evidently at ease with himself, with no known axes to grind, and no chips on his shoulder, visible or invisible (while retaining a becoming modesty), Bishop Justin has a proven record of negotiation with opposing factions which would stand him in very good stead as the next head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I do not say he is the only man for the job, simply that he could do it. Few others could.


1 Giles should perhaps get out more. The Welby type of Etonian is not that uncommon and much more attractive than the budding Bullingdonians. ;>)

2. Pete Phillips gave him a warm welcome to Durham. The diocesan website for Durham has this. The Revd Charlie Peer also wrote a very perceptive piece on his move to Durham.

3. Justin Welby is the great-nephew of the present (7th) baronet’s aunt’s husband, ‘Peter’ Portal (1st Viscount Portal), i.e. he married Joan Welby, daughter of the 5th Welby baronet. I know this because, coincidentally, I have been working on the family tree of one of his Welby cousins. At present, I cannot link him through the Welby line, though it seems very likely that he does connect. Justin’s parents were divorced when he was two, and all that is known is some of his father’s history in America, where he then went, and the fact that Justin’s grandfather, Bramhall James Welby, lived in South Africa.

4. The description of his father as a ‘bootlegger’ perhaps needs a little clarification. I think it was originally a throwaway line, in the self-deprecating mode described above.  Gavin Welby is described here, by the future mistress of Jack Kennedy, as ‘polite, even courtly – a gentleman, and not at all dangerous’. I guess if you lived in New York at the time of prohibition, many people found more or less dubious ways of getting their gin!

4. The illustration is by North News and Pictures Ltd

24 comments on this post:

Brian R Pateman said...

I read Giles’ interview with Justin Welby and I was impressed on the whole.

I think he’d get my vote on first sight if only because he has experience of life outside the Church. In the 21st century I think that it is increasingly important to have people in senior positions in the Church who’s life experience has a broad basis. Not just the Church and the groves of academe.

We need people who understand the more mundane secular aspects of life as well as having sound management experience.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Brian. One of the main reasons I like the idea of Justin Welby rather than Christopher Cocksworth or Graham James is precisely because of his experience in the wider world. As Kate Ardern says, he has extensive experience in reconciliation work which could with great effect be brought to bear on many of the problems that beset the Church.

13 August 2012 21:06
13 August 2012 20:25
Kate ardern said...

I should declare an interest before I comment as I know Justin & Caroline & count them as friends. Whilst I think this is an excellent assessment as far as it goes, it says nothing about the extensive experience Justin has had internationally on his often dangerous reconciliation work which he co-founded whilst at Coventry or the fact that he was brought in to chair a troubled NHS trust to steer them through recovery. All of this means Justin has considerable political & diplomatic skills in addition to a formidable intellect & dynamic sense of mission whilst being quite at home with diverse approaches to liturgy & worship. Justin would bring many gifts to being ABC – although he’s not a theologian like ++ Rowan,. He would be an imaginative appointment and would be more than prepared to say what he thinks about the iasues of the day – especially on matters of social justice which he referred to more than once in his installation sermon. The issue ,of course, is that he has only been at Durham for 6 months & therefore has far less experience of actually being a bishop than some of the other candidates -this may count both for & against him.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Kate. You are right to stress his skills as a negotiator and someone who can reconcile opposing camps. I can’t help but think this is exactly the quality that is needed in the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

I feel sorry for Durham, but as the cradle of Christianity in England feel they are well-placed to cope with the possible loss of Bishop Justin.

There is only one Archbishop of Canterbury and, while I see that lengthy service as a bishop is regarded as a necessary qualification for the job, I am not so sure. The two jobs are very different, the Church of England is not just like a very big diocese. The kind of leadership that is needed is unlikely to be learnt at the diocesan level, I feel. And this is where Bishop Justin’s experience, both before entering the priesthood and since then, in his work with the NHS that you quote, would all be so useful. This may be the place to quote the marvellous piece from this description on the Durham website as to what he had achieved in Liverpool:

While at Liverpool Justin has led significant changes to the life of the Cathedral. New styles of worship have been introduced alongside the traditional forms. The congregation has grown from about 250 to about 450. The cathedral has become much more involved in the life of the local area (Toxteth), working with asylum seekers and in partnership with local churches, and with the Roman Catholic Cathedral. A strong team, both lay and ordained has been built up, and a clear sense of mission and direction established. Morale amongst the roughly 80 staff and 200 volunteers has risen significantly. The mission of the Cathedral has been “a safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service”.

13 August 2012 21:19
13 August 2012 20:37
Grandmère Mimi said...

Laura, I’ve enjoyed your series on the candidates for ABC, and if I had to vote today on the basis of the information you’ve presented, Justin Welby would have my vote.

Lay Anglicana said...

The odds are 8 to 1, which is not very encouraging. Unfortunately he has not been in Durham for very long. I live in hope. 🙂

Grandmère Mimi said...

Of course, my first choice would be Alan Wilson, but he has no chance at all.

Lay Anglicana said...

I think this is sadly true. What a pity you and I are not leading the Crown Nominations Commission, Grandmère Mimi!

14 August 2012 19:46
14 August 2012 18:19
Joyce said...

I like his history of increasing the size of the congregation and the morale of the staff.
It bodes well.

12 November 2012 22:25
13 August 2012 22:02
13 August 2012 20:39
Steve said...

I hope he doesn’t go to cantabury as he has so much to offer us in Durham.

Lay Anglicana said...

I well understand this, and you may be safe for the very reason that he has not been there very long. However, if it happened, Durham’s loss would be the Church of England’s gain, in my opinion.

13 August 2012 21:22
13 August 2012 20:56

Looking good (from afar)…you mean a real live person who pays attention to reality? That would be with a REAL view of life around us as life breathes in and out? A person who strives to see better? Listen better? Solve problems better? He would engage in the REAL? The fog lifts?

Oh, yes, thank you, someone who is prepared to see the circle encircling a square is exactly what is needed (at least throughout the Anglican Communion and even just down the street).

Lay Anglicana said...

We are on the same page, Leonardo mio!

13 August 2012 21:46
13 August 2012 21:01
UKViewer said...

A good presentation supplemented by some other contributors.

I see him as a viable candidate, but just wonder if those on the CNC will feel the same. I have a nagging feeling that they are going to be looking for some sort of continuity, and will be averse to risk taking – which genuinely, selecting a recently appointed bishop would be.

I remain convinced that the Bishop of Liverpool would be the best candidate, particularly as Bishop Welby flourished in his diocese. But, given his circumstances, my wishes are unlikely to be granted.

Still, if they are like minds, there is hope.

Lay Anglicana said...

The odds are even greater against +James, unfortunately. Still, as you say, we live in hope.

14 August 2012 07:26
14 August 2012 05:20
Pam Smith said...

I knew Justin when he was at Coventry Cathedral, not only did he do a great job in the International Dept and as Sub Dean but he was very approachable. He spoke to the last Diocesan Readers’ conference I was eligible to attend and was not only very interesting on the subject of reconciliation but very clear about the contribution that Readers make to parish life and the difficulties many Readers have.

++ Justin would get my vote – sorry, Durham Diocese!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this, Pam. You have the inestimable advantage of having actually seen him in action. One of the things that caught my eye, I must admit, is that he was a ‘lay leader’ – in whatever capacity – while at Holy Trinity Brompton. If he’s done it, he must know what the worm’s eye view is like! Although I dare say HTB was not typical. Also everything indicates that he is prepared to listen. And another thing – if he can charm Giles Fraser, whose left wing credentials are impeccable, why should he not win over the left hand of the Church?

10 September 2012 11:25
10 September 2012 10:16
Hayley said...

Certainly gets my vote, none of that taint malarky going on here, God love him. And somebody who understands the secular business world, ethics and economics and the Church’s place in the midst of it all etc etc etc as Yule Brynner night say…

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Hayley. I think you are right to stress that it is not just that Justin Welby understands the secular world, it is that he has thought long and hard about the Church’s place in it. If he gets the job, shall we dance (to continue your King and I reference!)?

10 September 2012 22:39
10 September 2012 22:29
Charlie Peer said...

Lay Anglicana calls it right! He got my vote too. Clearly we swung it for him 🙂

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, Charlie! It would be pretty crowded in Canterbury Cathedral for the enthronement, I suspect, if all of us who feel we played a part in his selection were to be invited, but yes, I do feel that our nudges might (might) have had a ripple effect? Anyway, I am thrilled with the outcome, which I feel offers new hope for reconciliation – you will have noticed that he is never seen without his Coventry pectoral cross, which I also take great comfort from.

Thomas Tidswell said...

I suspect that rather than his ability to misrepresent his position on Women Bishops, his advancement to the Archbishopric might have the rather mundane fact that he is a very close descendant of “Rab” Butler, as well as an old-Etonian. It appears that these things are in the gift of the PM of the day. With Cameron, I doubt Jesus would gave got the job against Bishop Justin!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this, Thomas. I think the answer to this is yes, and/or possibly no! I agree that, if the system worked like that and Cameron had been given a free rein in choosing his next ABC, Justin Welby might well have been his choice. (In my view it is a good thing that Welby and Cameron are both old Etonians and might therefore be expected to ‘be on the same side’ as it makes it easier for ++Justin to say things that are unpalatable – which, incidentally, he has lost no time in doing. Archbishop Rowan was in principle opposed to everything a Conservative government might try to achieve, which did neither the Church of England nor the government – let alone the country – much good).
However, the problem with this thesis is that the system really does not work like this. A Church of England appointments committee sifts through the ‘candidates’ (people do not apply) and comes up with a name. The name is forwarded to the Prime Minister (and I think the Queen?) for approval. They used to be allowed to reject the candidate and ask for another name to be put forward, but when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister he revoked this authority.

29 December 2013 21:04
29 December 2013 16:37
12 November 2012 08:24
11 November 2012 19:49
dynamo said...

Very nice article!

31 January 2017 13:21

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