George Austin on the announcement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury

When I wrote about the background to the speculation about Justin Welby’s likelihood of becoming Archbishop of Canterbury (New Directions October 2012), I pondered the lack of confidentiality in the leaks.

It was not clear from press reports if this was on the part of members of the Crown Nominations Commission – which would have been unthinkable in the early Nineties when I was one of its members – or from elsewhere. Now it appears much more likely that this came from what have been described as ‘political’ sources.

Indeed could it be that Rowan Williams informed those sources that he would be announcing his resignation well before the end of 2011? Giving time for Welby to be put into the see of Durham by November that year? We shall never know for sure, but one hopes that politicians remember that the Magna Carta declared that the Church should be free of state interference – especially in the elections of its bishops. Not that this has ever been followed.

The greater good

However, I concluded the article by pointing out that in the end the Holy Spirit did have his place in the process and it is clear that, whatever political machinations there may have been, this appointment is for the greater good of the Church of God.

Welby is clearly a man who is pleasantly deprecating, describing himself as ‘the thickest bishop’ in the Church, yet one with considerable gifts and a fascinating history. At York, there is John Sentamu who in earlier days in Uganda,
as an advocate in the Supreme Court, spoke against Idi Amin and was briefly imprisoned before fleeing to England.

Welby too has been in danger of death, having been captured by rebels in Nigeria when working on conflict resolution. He might have been from a cloistered Old Etonian background but has seen more of that dark side of life than most other bishops.

A safe pair of hands

With an evangelical background, developed at Holy Trinity, Brompton, we can be sure that when he recites the Creed, he does not have his fingers crossed behind his back or his tongue in his cheek. With parts of the Anglican Church becoming deeply infected by the secular pressures all around us, he will be a safe pair of hands – as is Sentamu at York.

He is in favour of women bishops – and even a total traditionalist like me recognizes that if the Church has women priests, it must also have women bishops. Of those like me who nevertheless cannot in conscience agree with this change, Welby has said that he values us and wants to learn from us. He wants the Church of England to be ‘a place where we can disagree in love, respecting each other deeply as those who belong to Christ.’ That sounds like the Church of England I had known and loved for so many years but which is now limp and damaged.

The question for the General Synod will be whether or not liberal fundamentalists will be able to take this on board. But there is always hope and the power of God. ND