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Archbishop Justin Welby-The Road to Canterbury: Andrew Atherstone

ABCJ 001

Women Bishops

Welby found himself called upon [as Bishop of Durham] to bring reconciliation between hostile factions over the consecration of women as bishops. After years of acrimonious debate and numerous official reports, this development seemed increasingly certain.

As a result, some traditionalists within Durham diocese felt unable to remain within the Anglican family. Most of the congregation at St James the Great in Darlington decided to join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Benedict XVI to welcome former Anglicans into full communion with Rome while retaining some of their Anglican heritage. The first wave of departures, during Holy Week 2011, saw 10,000 lay people and 60 clergy from across England enter the Ordinariate. The Darlington group were part of the second wave at Lent 2012, led by their parish priest, Ian Grieves, who felt pushed out of Anglicanism by ‘this politically correct Church and liberal agenda which grinds on and on.’  Welby was ‘deeply sad’ at the congregation’s decision but was determined that this parting of friends would be without acrimony. He had known Grieves for 20 years since undertaking a training placement at St James while a student at Cranmer Hall, one of his early encounters with the catholic tradition, and praised his former supervisor as a ‘quite exceptional priest…a teacher of great gifts.’ In a poignant public act of friendship, Welby preached at the congregation’s final mass in February 2012, on the eve of their departure, announcing that ‘This is not a time for apologies. It is a time for repentance…Our repentance is for being part of a church which is in such a state. What do we do now? Bless, not curse.’

Welby’s personal commitment to the consecration of women bishops was not in doubt. In a pastoral letter to his diocese in July 2012 he made it clear that he held these views

as a result of careful studies of the scriptures, and examination of the tradition and ways in which the Church globally has grown into new forms of ministry over the two thousand years of its existence. They are not views gained simply from a pragmatic following of society around us, but are ones held in all conscience and with deep commitment.

At the same time he was ‘passionately committed’ to a theological understanding of the church as a redeemed fellowship, not a self-selecting group.

To put it in crude terms, because God has brought us together we are stuck with each other and we had better learn to do it the way God wants us to. That means in practice that we need to learn diversity without enmity, to love not only those with whom we agree but especially those with whom we do not agree.

Therefore he strongly supported the need for those in conscience theologically opposed to the ordination of women to be ensured a ‘proper place’ in the Church of England, though he acknowledged that it was ‘a difficult square to make into a circle’. In conversation with Giles Fraser, he spoke of ‘a circle with sharp bits on it’. The bishop told his diocesan synod that he personally would ‘spare no effort’ in seeking to find a way for the Church of England to demonstrate, not only in words, that it valued everyone. Behind the scenes he worked actively to bring together the most vocal participants in the debate by creating a safe space for ‘mutual listening’. The aim was ‘reconciliation’ which meant not unanimity or even broad agreement, ‘but the transformation of destructive conflict into constructive conflict’…

(p141) He urged support for the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure , as finally proposed, believing it to be ‘as good as we can get’. But he lamented the manner in which Anglicans had debated the issue with a ‘fire-fight of words, articles, letters and emails’, drawing parallels with the sectarian violence he had often witnessed in Africa and the Middle East. Followers of Christ, he proclaimed, should behave differently, as ‘reconciled reconcilers’ and a witness to the world. Returning to one of his favourite mottoes, Welby exhorted the Church of England to prove its commitment to ‘diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity’:

The Church is, above all, those who are drawn into being a new people by the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit. We are reconciled to God and to one another, not by our choice but by his. That is at the heart of our testimony to the gospel.

…This Anglican inclusivity was ‘a foundation stone for our mission in this country and the world more widely.

We cannot get trapped into believing that this is a zero-sum decision, where one person’s gain must be another’s loss. That is not a theology of grace.

Instead of going to war against one another over such issues, the bishop urged that Christians must

carry peace and grace as a treasure for the world. We must be those who live a better way; who carry that treasure visibly and distribute it lavishly.

This book is not the last word on the present Archbishop of Canterbury, nor does it purport to be. It is, however, an excellent preliminary biography written without knowing how the last chapters will be written. Much of the material has already appeared in the press, but Andrew Atherstone has collated well the information available publicly and he has also mined the parish magazines of Southam, where Justin Welby was parish priest. I value particularly the insight that these give into the essence of Archbishop Justin.

I thoroughly recommend this overview of a man who will play a decisive, perhaps historic, role in our beloved Church at a turning point in its history.
(I do feel somewhat like Spike Milligan – wot, no mention of my part in ++Justin’s meteoric rise? ;>) I can certainly claim to be the one to have discovered the link between him and the present Welby baronet, the nephew of Justin’s maternal great-uncle’s wife, and I think I was the first to publish on his Weiler antecedents, just beating the Telegraph to it in the Jewish Chronicle. Ah well, sic transit and all that…)

This extract begins on page 138.

Archbishop Justin Welby

The Road to Canterbury

Andrew Atherstone

published by Darton, Longman and Todd

978 0 232 52994 4
Paperback |160 pp |178 x 110 mm


Rowan Williams retired as Archbishop of Canterbury on 31 December 2012, and the Crown Nominations Commission elected the Rt Revd Justin Welby as his successor, enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral in March 2013.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has an international profile and influence. In this short, lively and informative book, Andrew Atherstone, explores Welby’s life from his formative years, education, and eleven year career in the oil industry to his ministry, as well as his theology and world view, beginning with a concise examination of his writings and how they inform his thinking.

Andrew Atherstone is tutor in History and Doctrine, and Latimer research fellow, at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has published Andrew4widely on a number of Anglican personalities such as Charles Golightly (Oxford’s Protestant Spy, Paternoster, 2007), and George Carey.
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