Justin Welby: a New Broom and the Head of the Anglican Communion in the UK – By Dianna Moylan

Posted by on Aug 25, 2013 in August 13 | No Comments

Dianna Moylan

AS OF March 21, 2013, the Most Reverend Justin Welby has been the new Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Communion in the UK.

His background is not typical of an Anglican priest, since his first degree was gained at Trinity College, Cambridge in history and law. For eleven years he worked in the oil industry, focusing mainly on West African and North Sea projects, though during this period he became a lay leader at Holy Trinity Church , Brompton, London.

His father’s family were German-Jewish immigrants to this country, escaping late 19th Century anti-Semitism, though they integrated into English society quickly. His mother’s family included several clergymen, so his association with the church was early and influential.

He and his wife, Caroline, mark the loss of their seven month old daughter in 1983, in a car crash, as being a major influence on their lives. In 1989 he sensed a call from God and began to train for ordination.

In his theology degree he focused on ethics, particularly business ethics, and has since published articles on ethics, international finance and reconciliation. His booklet ‘Can Companied Sin?’ drew on his experiences on the oil industry was widely disseminated. He has frequently referred to the Roman Catholic approach to Christian social teaching as having influenced his social thinking.

For 20 years, he worked closely with his parish communities, combining it with Church work around the world, particularly in areas of conflict.

In 1992 he was ordained Deacon and worked tirelessly in the Coventry Diocese. From 1995 to 2002 he worked primarily in Southam and Ufton where he helped revive congregations, and served on a NHS hospital trust in South Warwickshire.

In 2002 he became Canon of Coventry Cathedral and from there worked extensively in Africa and the Middle East, bringing his reconciliation skills to areas of conflict. He met with religious and political leaders in Israel and Palestine and on one trip to Baghdad, shortly after the Allied invasion, reopened the Anglican Church with Canon Andrew White. In 2006 he took over responsibility for Holy Trinity, Coventry, the main city centre church, as Priest-in-charge.

In December 2007 he became Dean of Liverpool, bringing the Cathedral into much greater contact with its local community, working with asylum seekers and in partnership with neighbouring churches.

In 2011 he became Bishop of Durham, an essential step towards his current position.

An expert on the politics and history of Kenya and Nigeria, he has lectured on reconciliation at the US State Department. In the summer of 2012, he was asked to join the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

As what has been seen as his first significant act as Archbishop of Canterbury he has recently spoken out against the current response to financial hardship: the Payday loan. He spoke out against Wonga.com, whose interest rates have become legendary.

The Government has reacted to this announcement by throwing its weight behind his initiative to build up credit unions, so that fewer people feel it necessary to turn to companies such as Wonga.com. Working with The Archbishop the Government intends to widen access to the 500 financial cooperatives who make small loans to their members, thus obviating the need for the big Payday loan companies.

In response to the Archbishop’s initiative Vince Cable’s department has announce plans to cut red tape for the financial co-ops and to spend £35m over ten years to help them expand.

The Archbishop wants to make Payday firms redundant through competition rather than legislation. He wants all institutions to play their part in their communities and, though the Church does not lend money directly to individuals, is encouraging the church to make its premises available to credit unions, and to share its expertise in these matters.

In coming out and making it clear that the Church of England recognises its responsibility to ordinary people, Welby has begun well in his new role. Let’s hope his efforts are effective, and mark a fresh approach to everyday problems.

Though this has featured most prominently in the news recently, the Archbishop has also made it clear that the ordination of women as bishops, gay marriage and equality issues of this type will all be attended to as he ploughs his furrow for the Church of England.

Perhaps what the job needs is a man whose experience and background cover more territory than the average priest. Justin Welby may well turn out to be the person needed to help bring equality and justice to all.

That’s a big ask, but we have to start somewhere.

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