[The following article is by Cole Moreton from the Telegraph]
The next Archbishop of Canterbury woke up yesterday with something on his mind. “Thought in the night,” he wrote on Twitter. “Those who made money betting on me give it to their local church!”
Chatting wittily online to 6,429 online followers is not something the present Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, would find easy. But as one observer suggested when the appointment was announced on Friday, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, may be the most worldly man ever chosen for Canterbury.
“Good gracious,” he said in response, raising an eyebrow. “That’s putting me up there with some of the medieval archbishops who owned vast tracts of land.”
He hoped she meant instead that he had experience of the world beyond the Church. That was evidently true, as the 56-year-old former oil company executive took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and took instant command of his first press conference.
He was standing in the daunting Guard Room at Lambeth Palace, which will not even be his until his enthronement on March 23, but he was behaving like a chief executive perfectly at ease in his HQ.
Self-deprecation is one of his favourite tactics, and he revealed that “horrendously bad personal experience” of investment meant he had lost a lot of the money he once earned in the City, with his six-figure salary and shares. “Fortunately, I don’t have any control over church finances, otherwise our position would be really abysmal.”
That flew in the face of the main reason why he was chosen to be Archbishop – the belief that he would be able to help “reimagine” the Church for the modern age, overhauling its structures, strategies and finance. But don’t be fooled by the dry wit. Justin Welby is a serious man. His joking showed an awareness that he will have to fight Obama-fication, the heaping on to his shoulders of so many people’s wild dreams and expectations.
Then again, he has been defying expectations all his life. He is a former City treasurer who has spoken out against greedy bankers. He is an Evangelical convert with experience of the gifts of the Spirit, who has a Roman Catholic spiritual director and reads the Rule of Saint Benedict “most days”.
And he had only been Bishop of Durham for the shortest while before being chosen as the spiritual head of the Church of England and of 77 million Anglicans worldwide. As his own son Peter, studying Arabic in Egypt, said: “Who in their right minds would make Archbishop of Canterbury a man who [has] only been a bishop of any kind a year?”
The main thing most people know about him is that he went to Eton, just like the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London. Francis Gardner, his housemaster there, told The Sunday Telegraph: “He was, shall we say, a serious-minded student, who always worked to the best of his ability, academically. He was not a great games player, as some schoolboys are, but he took an interest in people and anything sensible. He was a model boy, though not one of great distinction.”
But behind the photograph of the boys of Gardner House lies a hidden truth. Master Welby had a problem, according to a family friend. His erratic father had enough money to send him to the public school, but didn’t give any of it to Justin to pay his way, day to day. In a class that included two Rothschilds, he was almost certainly the poorest child. That cannot have been easy.
His father Gavin Welby, who was from a German Jewish immigrant family, had been put on a boat to New York as a teenager with £5 in his pocket and told to make his own way. He became a bootlegger, selling whisky during Prohibition. Later, he introduced John F Kennedy to a mistress, just weeks before the future president was married.
Back in England, this rakish man fell for Jane Portal, the private secretary to Winston Churchill and niece of the great Conservative politician Rab Butler.
Her family were not pleased. The couple split up when their only child, Justin, was four years old. The Eton schoolboy was from a broken home.
His father struggled with alcoholism and died when Justin was 21. Jane had gone on to marry the banker and Labour peer Lord Williams of Elvel.
Between school and university, Justin Welby spent a gap year in Kenya, working on a voluntary project. His motivation was not faith, because that did not come until his second year at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Welby was a skilled cox of the rowing team, and loved to sail. He also fell in with a group of Evangelicals who were exploring the Bible and the Holy Spirit together. The conversion to Christianity that followed was apparently powerful, and personally overwhelming, but what interested him most was how his new faith might change the world.
Welby changed subjects, and gained a degree in history. Afterwards, he applied for a role in the diplomatic service but said: “I messed up the form. Three times.”
Somehow, he landed a job in the international finance department of the oil company Elf in Paris. “They asked me whether I knew anything about oil or finance and I said, 'No’,” he later recalled. Nor did he speak much French, so he took an intensive six-month course and became fluent. The role took him often to Nigeria, where Elf was launching a $15 billion project, and he developed a passion for the country that has lasted all his life.
Welby had met Caroline Eaton at Cambridge and they married 33 years ago. Their first child, Johanna, was only seven months old when she died in 1983. Caroline was in the passenger seat, being driven through Paris, while Johanna was on the back seat in a carrycot. There was an accident and the cot was thrown out of the car and on to the road. Johanna was killed.
Losing their only child in this terrible way left the Welbys “completely and utterly devastated”, but when they returned to London in the early Eighties they found comfort and support at Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB).
The largest Anglican church in the country has a congregation of 5,000 people spread across 10 services every Sunday. It is the birthplace of Alpha, the course introducing people to a friendly form of Evangelical Christianity, which has now been taken by 19 million people across the world and even attracted the praise of the Pope.
Despite reports, Justin Welby is believed not to have taken the Alpha course himself. He did play a full part in the life of the church though, leading a fellowship group and serving on the parochial church council.
By this time he was the group treasurer of Enterprise Oil, raising money for the exploitation of gas in the North Sea. Former colleagues describe him as “not being Churchy” and say that he “revelled” in the rough and tumble of major deals and takeovers. Last year he told the magazine Financial World: “I was good at structuring hedges [hedge funds] … and it just all turned into gold.”
So why did this rising star of the City give it all up to become a priest? The day he knew he had to concentrate on the Church came in 1987, when he heard an American speaker at HTB. “At that moment,” he said, “it just came to the front of my mind.”
The speaker is thought to have been John Wimber, leader of the Vineyard movement. A former keyboard player with the Righteous Brothers, this genial, charismatic Californian played a part in Bob Dylan’s conversion to Christianity, but was best known for his belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to heal people emotionally and physically. His meetings were highly charged, with people often laughing or in tears, speaking in tongues or falling down, apparently overcome by the Spirit.
Welby’s personal spirituality has broadened considerably since then. HTB has also matured, becoming a strong part of the Anglican mainstream. But what he does seem to have carried with him from Wimber is the sense of faith as a great adventure, demanding that followers risk everything on the Lord.
He was rejected for ordination at first by the Bishop of Kensington, who told the future archbishop: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.”
But Welby had the support of the influential Sandy Millar, then Vicar of HTB, and eventually made it to St John’s College in Durham. He and Caroline lived off savings and investments from his time in the City as he trained, but by the time he was a curate in Nuneaton the money had begun to run out.
All five of their children went to state schools. Life was a struggle, but he was working in the midst of even greater poverty there and in his next parish, Southam. “I have never had demands on me as acute as when I was a parish priest,” he said.
There was not even a salary for his next job, as Canon and working in the centre for peace and reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral. He raised his own funding to go off and mediate in the trouble hotspots of the world, specialising again in Africa.
This work continues, despite his having been threatened and held at gunpoint. Once he narrowly avoided being kidnapped during a visit to negotiate with warlords in the swamps of the Nigerian Delta.
One leader told him, through an interpreter: “Well, it looks like we’re not going to kill you. We’ll have to take you as a hostage instead.” Welby later recalled persuading him that “nobody would pay to have me back”.
His deep personal commitment to Nigeria will at least buy him time with the outspoken archbishops of Africa, who are dismayed at the attitudes being taken by the Western church towards women and homosexuality.
Rather than confront these dissidents, who represent millions of believers, he said on Friday that he hoped to learn from them. He will need all his skills of negotiation and conflict resolution to hold the Communion together.
After a period as Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, Welby was asked by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, to apply for the post of Bishop of Durham. Welby declined, saying he and the family were happy in Liverpool. Sentamu insisted. This suggests York will now be supportive, rather than jealous that he did not get the top job himself.
Becoming a bishop only a year ago, he made an instant name for himself by overturning the way the Church in Durham is run.
Congregations were struggling to pay what was being demanded of them for the central pot, which is used mainly for the salaries of priests.
The new bishop said instead: “OK, you tell us how much you can afford to pay, and we will set the diocesan budget accordingly.” It sounds simple, but was revolutionary in this context. The result so far has been some parishes paying even more, because of a greater sense of ownership.
Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops Council, hopes he will apply similarly bold thinking to the Church as a whole. “If he is a strategic thinker and radical and a visionary and a risk taker, then we’re in for an exciting time.”
His children have had to brace themselves for attention, as the sons and daughters of a new world spiritual leader. They are Tim, 28, Peter, 23, Katherine, 26, Eleanor, 20 and Hannah, 17. On Friday, Peter posted a picture of himself standing by Lambeth Palace on Twitter, captioned “Strange days”. And Katherine, who works for a Christian charity in London, tweeted: “So this makes me ABCD [as daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury]? I always wanted a title.” Earlier this year she posted a photograph of herself in a tea cosy mitre, as the “first woman bishop” – a cause she supports in common with her father.
Facing the press for the first time on Friday, the future Archbishop spoke about that with confidence. “I will be voting in favour,” he said of the decision faced by the Church’s governing body in eight days time, about whether to make women bishops.
He added that he “celebrated the remarkable signs of God’s grace and action in the ministries of many people who cannot in conscience agree with this change”.
He made it clear that he will oppose gay marriage equality. The Prime Minister can expect a fight. But he said: “We must have no truck with any form of homophobia.”
And Bishop Welby said: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.”
His tactic, then, is to say he admires and is listening to the people he disagrees with. How well that will work in the long run remains to be seen.
Some of his fellow bishops believe he will achieve little unless he challenges the deadening influence of the civil servants who work at Church House in Westminster or across the Thames in Lambeth Palace itself.
They are described in extraordinary terms by the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham: “On one side of the river at Church House you’ve got a group of people behaving like Sir Humphrey on the cheap,” he says. “On the other there’s a medieval fiefdom, a bunch of people sitting around a table like the knights in Monty Python. Someone has got to find a way to bring these two groups together in a way that will make them capable of organising a booze-up in a brewery.”
If Bishop Welby wants the world to know what he is doing, he will have to tackle the evasive, ultra-defensive posture adopted towards the press by staff at Lambeth Palace. But Ken Costa, the chairman of Alpha and a senior figure in the City, who has been a friend since university, says: “His business training enables him to set priorities and execute against them. It would have to be a howling gale to knock him off course.”
He will also be the first Archbishop in half a century to understand fully the work of the Church Commissioners, whose investments pay for priestly salaries. Predecessors have turned a blind eye or been hampered by their ignorance. The new man will know what questions to ask.
But perhaps his main task will be to help the Church meet the three goals it has agreed for the coming century: to grow spiritually and numerically; to focus resources where there is the most need and opportunity; and to “reshape or reimagine the Church’s ministry” to make sure there is a growing Christian presence in “every local community”.
The Church no longer has the money, the priests or the people to put a paid member of the clergy into every parish church. It must find – or “reimagine” – a new way of being itself, and preferably one that appeals to some of the 23 million or so people in England who say they believe in God but do not go to church.
Mr Costa, former head of Lazards investment bank, says: “Justin Welby is a man for such a time as this. I worked with him in the City and his integrity in a cut-throat oil industry was never questioned. He is confident in his faith and compassionate to a wide range of people, he is committed to enabling the Church to respond to the hunger for spirituality in the nation, and above all he will communicate clearly.”
Perhaps the smartest thing Justin Welby did in his first public appearance as the incoming Archbishop was to throw the spotlight on what he called the “unknown heroes” of the faith. “The work of the Church of England is not done primarily on television or at Lambeth, but in over 16,000 churches, where hundreds of thousands of people get on with the job they have always done, of loving neighbours, loving each other and giving more than 22 million hours of voluntary service outside the church a month.”
He will need their support; but Anglicans will know their Archbishop is a man who understands poverty and suffering, understands how money and power work, and knows that he must provide clear, strong leadership.
Bishop Welby said that the “vast company” of believers made him feel “utterly optimistic about the future of the Church”. As they get to know their new leader, many may dare to feel the same.