Former oilman poised to become new Archbishop of Canterbury

With his hands-on background in business and civil conflict resolution, Justin Welby may be just what the Anglican Communion needs right now. Photo: Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates
With his hands-on background in business and civil conflict resolution, Justin Welby may be just what the Anglican Communion needs right now. Photo: Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates
By on November 8, 2012

The 105th prelate to ascend the throne of St. Augustine is expected to be the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, 56, bishop of Durham, according to a CBC report aired this morning.

The man set to assume this more than 1,400-year-old mantle was only named to the episcopacy last year. Educated at Eton and later a graduate in law and history of Cambridge University, Welby worked in the oil industry during his 20s, resigning in 1987 to study divinity at Cranmer Hall in Durham. Ordained as a deacon in 1992, he rose quickly within clerical ranks, becoming a canon at Coventry in 2002.

Welby became dean of Liverpool in 2007 and was enthroned last December as bishop of Durham, the fourth-most senior clerical post in the Church of England. Ironically, at that time Welby said he expected to be bishop of Durham for a very long time.

During the recent selection process he faced several far more experienced candidates such John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, Richard Chartres, bishop of London, and Graham James, bishop of Norwich.

Welby’s possible appointment is being seen as something of a swing to the right for the church after the liberal regime of Dr. Rowan Williams. A married father of five, he’s considered a flexible but evangelical clergyman holding a traditional view of marriage but also supporting women bishops. Admitting that he likes to “just hang out with people, listen and participate,” he may prove to be a very accessible primate.

His hands-on pragmatic background as an executive in the oil industry in Africa and his later experience in conflict resolution will likely stand him in good stead as he deals with divisive factions within the 77-million-member Anglican Communion across its more than 160 countries. From 2002 to 2007, he led Coventry Cathedral’s ministry of reconciliation around the world, serving in dangerous areas of severe civil conflict such as Nigeria.

As a strong critic of Big Banking, Welby has recently faced off against investment bankers as a panel member on the U.K.’s Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

Last month, he took the financial sector to task in a lecture on rebuilding after the post-2008 financial meltdown. Speaking on ethics to financiers in Zurich, he said: “Banks and financial services generally need a culture of service, of care for the poor and refusal of injustice. We need to build from the ruins something that looks as if it helps people rather than being there for people to help it.” Welby further noted that, “financial services are crucial to human development, but they only do their job when the work they carry out is done in a way that is truly a service.”

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  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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