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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

Love Divine, All Loves Embracing

This is a guest post by Chris Fewings, who says he “is a not-very-faithful Anglican, glad of the welcome offered by the Church of England to drifters“. He writes at He prefaces his post with the following:

“I was delighted to be offered to contribute to Lay Anglicana and so clarify my own thoughts on two current debates. I offer this reflection in the hope of learning more through dialogue.


Some argue that disputes about same-sex relationships and women bishops are distractions from the central message of Christianity. I’m not so sure. What does the church have to offer? At its best, an invitation to humankind to explore together the witness of the one who stretched wide his arms for us on the cross. Jesus was counter-cultural in defying religious authority, undermining rigid interpretations of scripture, including women and foreigners and outcasts, and inviting us to search our hearts rather than our rule books.

In the sixties, an unmarried mother, or indeed a black person, would have been enough to have many Anglicans shuffling uneasily in the pews. Far from being counter-cultural, religious beliefs often reflect the prejudices of their time. Even Luther became rabidly anti-Semitic. Even some Quakers once owned slaves. Large organisations with an ageing leadership are often slow to respond to changes in the conscience of a nation, but why is the church particularly slow?

Because it can appeal to a higher authority, variously invoked as God, the Bible, Tradition, and in our case, the worldwide Anglican Communion. However, many scholars have brought learning, humility and reason to bear in painstakingly teasing out historical accidents from the great tradition of love incarnate, which is the best of the church in all times and all places.

So let’s imagine a little of what love might mean to us now as we seek a Christian response to a changing culture, new understandings of human nature, new legal frameworks, and the challenge of sharing a global village with sincere Christians who reject gay relationships and women’s ordination. Christians in the first century, the fourth century, the sixteenth century pondered, debated, and evolved: so will we.

First, let’s stop de-sexing the love of God. We might start with gender. Beyond the talk of Jesus’ all-male apostles (they were also all Jewish) there is the fact that Jesus was male and unmarried, and a hint that God is usually, conventionally, or mainly male. In the fourteenth century an Englishwoman of quite exceptional insight wrote that as truly as God is our father, so just as truly he is our mother. (She even wrote of Jesus as mother.) A subtle undercurrent of the motherliness of God is common to the Abrahamic faiths. But most Christians keep this insight peripheral. God can be mother occasionally perhaps, but “just as truly” is psychologically unsettling. Exploring this dimension of God is a growth point for faith.

And let’s add sexuality and passion back into the love of God. A friend wrote a book with the working title, Is God Sexy? The publisher couldn’t pre-sell the title to Christian bookshops, so it was changed. They had found the ‘Christian’ answer to the question before a page of the book was read. We’re told the Song of Songs is an allegory of the love of God. So let’s go there. Let’s read it and get stuck in, and let God seduce us.

Second, let’s refine our understanding of love as welcome. Oppressed people get damaged by power, but we’re selective about which kinds of oppressed or previously oppressed groups we welcome into church, and on what terms. Some kinds of oppression are particularly damaging because they try to preclude solidarity by isolating the victims. Those of us who now recognise that committed gay relationships were once made furtive and extremely difficult by legal and social norms need to open wide our arms, not only to individuals, but to gay couples holding hands, celebrating their love, if not in same-sex marriages then in public blessings which flaunt this divine gift of commitment to each other, this fulfilment of created sexual excitement.

Third, let’s explore the effect of oppression on the oppressor. Oppression uses power to block love, which seeks to flow. Love’s risky. It usually entails loss and pain. I block the love in me for safety, but find myself drying out, because the economy of love and loss engenders new life. Withdrawing from this economy, unacknowledged loss and pain become fossilised in me – and may turn to hate.

And lastly, let’s face the painful possibility of greater distance between churches. Facing the possibility doesn’t mean seeking it. Our starting point should be that the churches don’t own God. She’s a loose cannon as well as a lawgiver. She gives religious leaders the slip at the top of cliffs. She’s found more outside the church than in it. If your partner said to you, ‘I want to stay with you forever, so you must never let your Jewish friends in my house again’, you might want to re-think the relationship from the ground up. You would start with discussion. You might go to a counsellor. You would question your own values and priorities. But in the end you might be forced to choose.

And in that moment you would need love more than ever, the hard sort. You might be tempted to fury or hate or contempt, or you might want to exercise your power over the other, to force them into line, or push them out. But maybe in the end, for the sake of the children, or for the sake of the rest of your life, you would get on your knees and cry to Love itself for compassion to break through, like a blind man in a crowd who is sure that there’s someone out there who can transform him.

This is no time for entrenched positions. It’s a time to step out of the boat onto the waves, fixing our eyes on love, daring to learn from each other.



The illustration is a 12th century Oranta Eastern Orthodox icon (with METER THEOU “Mother of God”) monograms from the Ukraine. Via wikimedia.


‘How Hard Is It To Say No?’

This is the question my friend Susan Gage wants to put to the assembled General Convention of The Episcopal Church, which met in Indianapolis from 5-12 July (neatly and annoyingly overlapping with the General Synod of the Church of England). In her latest blog post,

‘The Episcopal Church Says, “Ummmm” To Anglican Covenant’,

Susan describes the Convention from the point of view of a frustrated fellow-member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. Other good blog posts describing the Convention are by Jim BeyerDoug Blanchard,  June Butler,  Lionel Deimel, the Revd Malcolm French, the Revd Lauren A Gough, the Revd Dr Elizabeth Keaton,  the Ven. Alan T Perry and The Revd Canon Susan Russell.

I recommend that, if you are a member of the Anglican Communion, you read at least some of these blog posts. After all, it was a Church of England priest who said ‘No man is an island entire of itself‘. Another, more down-to-earth, way of saying the same thing is “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”


The Dog That Did Not Bark In The Night

Did anyone else notice that at the General Synod in York no mention at all was made of the fact that the Covenant, promoted so fervently by the Archbishop of Canterbury and most of his fellow bishops, was rejected by diocesan synods? In the Church of England, it seems, ‘if it is not pleasant, it does not exist‘. Or if it is awkward. Or contentious. Or embarrassing. Or all four.

Better To Call A Spade A Spade?

I expect you know this: “What is the difference between a lady and a diplomat?”

When a diplomat says “yes”, he means “perhaps”.
When a diplomat says “perhaps”, he means “no”.
But when a diplomat says “no”, he is no diplomat at all
When a lady says “no”, she means “perhaps”.
When a  lady says “perhaps”, she means “yes”.
But when a lady says “yes”, she is no lady at all.


The Dangers Of Not Learning To Say ‘No’

Flanders and Swann have a very short ditty, which I knew off by heart at about the age of eight, certainly long before I understood what it meant:

Oh it’s hard to say “Hoolima-Kittiluca-Cheecheechee” , but in Tonga, that means “No”.
If I ever have the money,’tis to Tonga I shall go.
For each lovely Tongan maiden there will gladly make a date.
And by the time she’s said “Hoolima-Kittiluca-Cheecheechee”, it is usually too late!



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