New Archbishop of Canterbury

Rt. Rev. Justin Welby

There’s a new Archbishop of Canterbury. I must confess that we had a pony in the race. My sister is married to the Anglican Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, and his name was mentioned at one point. Alas. The big hat at Canterbury has gone to a certain breed of Church of England Evangelical that comes from the parish of Holy Trinity Brompton. This parish is well known for attracting well to do, well connected, well educated men from established families who combine a taste for the higher things in life with a taste for low church, fervor and charismatic worship. Nothing quite like it here in the USA. Think high end Ivy League NYC stock brokers and Washington lawyers meeting to hold hands, sway and speak in tongues…

The famous Alpha Course was developed at Holy Trinity Brompton by the charming Nicky Gumbell and Justin Welby the new ABC is popped right out of that mold. From an upper crust family, he was educated at the top boarding school Eton (where prince William and Harry attended) a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle. Welby has had a meteoric rise in the Church of England. He was ordained later in life after a career in the oil business. He quickly rose to become Dean of Liverpool and then Bishop of Durham (the fourth highest ranking bishop in the C of E). He was there less than two years and now has the top job. Far be it from me to suggest that anything so sordid as ‘ambition’ might infect the hearts of clergymen in the Church of England, but there must be not a few noses put out of joint from those career men who have worked long and hard to climb the greasy crozier, only to have the top job snatched from them by a newbie to the bishop’s bench.

Peter Mullen– a cranky right winger in the Church of England– comments here. He thinks the new ABC is just the same old thing: a politically correct, well connected, left wing establishment type.

In other words, remembering that excellent show Yes Prime Minister, he is the perfect Church of England bishop: “A socialite who is also a socialist.”

He will also combine all that with an Evangelical theological position which seems conservative (“the Bible really is the Word of God”) while adapting adroitly to the spirit of the age. (“After serious study of the Bible I am firmly in favor of women bishops” and “On the question of homosexual unions. We must continue to pray and discuss together,”) In other words, George Carey with class or Rowan Williams still with the fuzzy theology if not the fuzzy face.

  • Peter Brown

    I’m thinking it could have been distinctly worse–for example, a revisionist in the mold of Katherine Jefferts Schori. Welby at least claims priority for Scripture, which is a dangerous commitment to make for those who would move unreservedly with the times.

    Interpretation unchecked by an infallible Tradition (and a Magisterium, which is its current embodiment) certainly leaves plenty of room for imagining God as the reflection of one’s on cultural values. But if Welby really *thinks* he’s taking Scripture as the Word of God–and I’m not aware of any compelling evidence that he doesn’t–even interpretation can only be stretched so far before he starts having trouble believing it himself. So it may restrain some of the worst excesses open to out-and-out revisionists.


    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You are more optimistic than I. When I see the establishment figures of the Church of England I see Katherine Schori, but without the American brashness. They are basically on the same page–its just that the English hierarchy deliver it all with a veneer of tradition, conservatism and urbane manners.

      • Robnd

        Katharine Jefferts Schori is hardly what anyone might call “brash.” Somewhat imperious and fridgid for an American perhaps, but not brash. The better word for her is tough. She’s not a pushover by any stretch of the imagination, and that quality can be a very good one if you are on the side of the game with her.

  • Independent

    A trendy Evangelical decked out in Ultramontanist vestments, is he part of the Anglican Patrimony should he ever change his allegiance? Nevertheless it would appear that unlike a former Bishop of Winchester he does believe that Our Lord intended to found a church.

  • Andrew Hall

    May I point out – from personal experience – that Bishop Welby, as well as being a priest who prays, is by no means a typical ‘HTB evangelical’. It is less than generous to dismiss him as ‘a socialite who is also a socialist’. Reference might be made to the very difficult parish in which he served his first curacy. His personal spiritual discipline is quite admirable, and he has shown a generous opennes to the Catholic tradition in the C of E, not least in his relationship with religious communities, significantly as a regular and very humble retreatant. His father-in-law, Charles Williams, is the son of Prof. N.P. Williams, of ‘Northern Catholicism’ fame, and I think this family connection has broadened and deepened Bishop Welby’s faith so that it encompasses more than a social evangelicalism. It is a pity that we Christians seem unable to withhold the exercise of our critical faculties until the man’s appointment has actually been announced. I ought to say that I belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, not the Church of England, and that my views may well differ from that of Bishop Welby. That does not prevent me from seeing that his Christian faith and witness is rather more than a veneer.

    • Maria

      Amen, brother!

  • Mark Nel

    I thank God daily that I converted to Catholicism in 1987. At the time I felt quite heart-sore but now I have no doubt that I made the right decision. I wonder how this new ABC will impact on relations with Rome?

  • Harry

    Well, to be fair, it makes sense for a low-church man to believe in the ordination of women. He’s not an Anglo-catholic, so presumably he doesn’t hold to a strong view of apostolic authority or succession.
    Remember that Tom Wright also believes in the ordination of women, and he can hardly be accused of holding this position because he wishes to adapt the faith for the times- he firmly holds to Orthodoxy on homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion.

  • David J. White

    In other words, remembering that excellent show Yes Prime Minister, he is the perfect Church of England bishop: “A socialite who is also a socialist.”

    I remember the episode where Hacker had to recommend a candidate to be ABC, and the two final choices presented to him were a Disestablishmentarian and a Modernist. He said incredulously to Sir Humphrey, “So I have to choose between someone who wants to get the Queen out of the Church of England, and someone who wants to get God out of the Church of England!”

  • Durhamite

    He was only installed here in Durham on 26th Nov. 2011. and it has not yet been anounced that he is the next bishop.

  • LOTR

    Hilaire Belloc defined the Archbishop of Canterbury over a century ago as a “doubtfully baptized layman”. The vacuous positions and heretical beliefs of the Diskensianly monikered Bishop Welby confirm yet again that, if anything, the definition is generous. It confounds all sense that the Catholic Church continues in fruitless, never-ending dialogue with such preposterous poseurs and their collapsing house of horrors in the so-called Anglican Communion which is neither Anglican nor a communion of anything but the Real Absence and polyglot doctrinal contradictions.

    • flyingvic

      Before you attempt any further patronising dismissals of fellow-Christians, perhaps you – and Hilaire Belloc – should revisit your baptismal theology.

      • Hegessipus

        Do not attack Belloc’s position in this; at the time this was correct.

        • flyingvic

          Nicholas Lash, writing in The Tablet 21 july 2007: “By way of conclusion, a word on Anglican orders. What is the Catholic Church’s view of their status? Here we confront a paradox. On the one hand, Leo XIII’s encyclical Apostolicae Curae, of 1896, which denounced Anglican orders as “absolutely null and utterly void”, has never been repealed. It would seem to follow that there must be some sense – for all I know a “proper” sense – in which the Archbishop of Canterbury is, as one Roman Catholic bishop put it in a letter to The Times in, I think, 1951, a letter exhibiting a tact and generosity worthy of the CDF, a “doubtfully baptised layman”.

          On the other hand, it is also the case that, for over 40 years, successive popes have received bishops and other dignitaries of the Church of England with richly symbolic gestures (and facts have their own logic) such as Paul VI’s exchange of episcopal rings with Archbishop Michael Ramsey, John Paul II’s gift of a priest’s stole to Professor Henry Chadwick and, last November, the invitation to Archbishop Rowan Williams to celebrate the Eucharist at the high altar of the ancient basilica of Santa Sabina, a celebration at which the Gospel was read by a senior official of the Roman Curia.”

          I don’t know whether Belloc said it as well, and, if so, about whom; but unless it is properly explained exactly what the writer meant, it remains doubtful baptismal theology.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            My understanding is that an Anglican priest’s orders are ‘null and utterly void’ as Catholic orders. In other words he is not a Catholic priest. What he is and what his ordination consists of and just what an Anglican priest thinks he is doing is up to the Anglicans to tell us–not for us to tell the Anglicans.

            When I converted to the Catholic faith people said “Well what about your Anglican ordination. Do you say it is null and void?” I replied that I was sure that I was not a Catholic priest. My orders were valid Anglican orders. Just what that means exactly has all the maddening and delightful fuzziness that Anglicanism take pride in.

          • flyingvic

            Fine: but what do you understand by “doubtfully baptised”?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Belloc was writing under an old dispensation before Vatican 2 during a time when there was real debate in the Catholic Church about the validity of baptisms that took place outside the Catholic Church. This debate is mirrored in his term ‘doubtfully’. That has now been clarified. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us to recognize that all who have faith and are baptized with water in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are rightfully called our brothers and sisters in Christ.

            Unitarian baptism and Mormon baptism and any baptism in some other formula however is not valid.

    • SteveD

      A Jesuit in the 50′s told his students that the Anglicans had as much spiritual authority as British Railways. A bit hard on the latter, I thought, they did usually tell the truth about train times and did not say that their timetable depended on how you perceived time.

  • Matthew

    Amusing to read this column in the Daily Telegraph today …”The only concern [among MPs] was that [Welby] might be too religious for the job”. A bishop who believes in God? Heaven forbid.

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  • Andrew Hall

    I do apologise: I typed ‘father-in-law’ when I meant step-father.

  • tz

    You refer to him as “Archbishop”. Does that mean you consider the apostolic succession applies to Anglicans, so he is properly an “Archbishop”, much like that lesbian in the US? I have an orthodox Bishop of whom I have no doubt of apostolic succession, but observe the divide.

    (I ought not to be picky, but if even we don’t call things by their right names, e.g. “illegal” instead of “undocumented”, on what basis do we criticize our enemies who call a baby a “tissue blob”?).

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      He is an Anglican Archbishop. Like a bishop in chess…

      • flyingvic

        Not so: some move forwards, some backwards and some sideways – not all are restricted either to the diagonals or to particular coloured squares.

    • Robnd

      “Lesbian is the US?” What lesbian in the US?

  • Peter

    With all due respect to our Anglican seperated brethren, isn’t this, effectively, a public relations position? Does the ABC have any authority to speak of?

    • flyingvic

      If we are separated from condescension and the seemingly irrestible temptation to be patronised by our brethren, then long may the separation continue. And, with all due respect, please learn how to spell ‘separate’!

  • Barbara

    With all due respect, The Alpha Course wa snot developed by Nicky Gumbel and Justin Welby. Alpha was started in 1977 by Charles Marnhan. John Irvine took over the course and made it into a 10 week programme which explores one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. It was not until 1990 that Nicky Gumbel, one time non believer, took over at the invitation of Sandy Millar. Under Nicky’s watch the course has expanded into other areas from caring for Ex Offenders to Youth Alpha to Marriage Programmes to God at Work. There is Alpha for Catholics and Catholicism 201 which was developed by Scotsman by birth, Fr James Mallon after he had run the Alpha Course in his confirmation classes.

    It was The Alpha Course that spurred on Justin Welby’s spirituality after he began worshipping at HTB.

    We use the Alpha Course in the Roman Catholic Church here in Trinidad, West Indies. I have seen lives change as a result. Lapsed Catholics have come back, gone through RCIA and I have also been witness to conversion.

    Alpha is far more low key than Catholic Charismatic groups which in some places such as here, would lead one to think one was attending a Benny Hill Rally!

    Your take on HTB is somewhat slanted. For those who don’t know, it is situated in one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest borough in Central London and therefore those living in that area, will obviously worship there, as indeed will the not so wealthy who live on the boundaries, such as South Kensington renowned for its bedsits , flat dwellers and foreign students.

    • Maria

      I wrote something similar to you about the stance on HTB below as I wanted a fair portrayl of their ministry.

      • Barbara

        I’m glad you did. I could have written a great deal more so am pleased that you took it up. I’m quite taken aback by the disdain shown on this page for anyone or anything that is non Catholic. You know what they say, don’t you? Converts to Roman Catholicism are always the worst! More Catholic than the Pope and so busy being Catholic, they forget to be Christian.I know Americans who believe that God is a Catholic and that Our Lady converted from Judaism! Go into the chat room on Catholic Forum – very entertaining!
        I wonder how a discussion on Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster would go!

        • SteveD

          Some Baptists believe that John the Baptist was clearly a Baptist! There are people of limited intellectual ability in all denominations.

  • John Michael Akers

    I kinda liked Rowan Williams, especially his eyebrows. I have his book of poetry, “The Poems of Rowan Williams” with a forward by Phoebe Pettingell. I recommend this book. His poem, Advent Calender is appropriate for this time of year. He will be missed on the world stage. May God Hold Him In The Palm Of His Hand. As a side note, I am Roman Catholic, from the cradle.

  • Maria

    Dear Father,

    As a Catholic, and one who knows Holy Trinity Church well, along with having friends who know Justin Welby personally, I was disappointed to read your write up. You say that HTB is a parish ‘known for attracting well to do, well connected, well educated men from established families’, and while that is the case they have a flourishing student ministry with students from all walks of life, and have a brilliant relationship with the prison service, providing a programme for former convicts to be rehabilitated. In fact a number of former criminals have given testimony at their services as to how the Alpha Course has changed their life. You said they have a taste ‘for the higher things in life with a taste for low church, fervor and charismatic worship’ – however the Church has service of all types, including more traditional communion services. They have served the Catholic Church tirelessly, providing Catholic streams at their Leadership and Alpha conferences, employing Catholic staff, winning the support of Catholic bishops internationally, and being nothing but supportive of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact they would never say negative things about us, only seek to serve us, so my hope is that even if our theology differs we would offer them the same respect.

    Those who know Justin Welby say that he could not be futher from the Eton stereotype. He has got his hands dirty in some very troubled areas of Britain, and I believe has recently returned from Nigeria on a peace keeping mission. In fact his work with persecuted Christians has seen him nearly killed. He spoke today of how his spiritual director is a Catholic monk, and in the opening question time he talked favourably about John Henry Newman, also revealling that he had learnt much from the Benedictines about ‘adoration’ and ‘contemplative’ prayer. He is an oblate of the Anglican Benedictines. Justin Welby was recently at a summer camp listening to Fr Raniero Cantalamessa preach, so let’s get to know the man and pray for him.

    Peace and blessings,

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thanks for your comment. I will try to be more open minded.

      • flyingvic


        • SteveD

          Pots and kettles, motes and beams!

  • Independent

    I can think of several Roman Catholic theologians beside whom the new Archbishop of Canterbury would appear to be very orthodox. Neither is he a holocaust minimiser or denier.


    Fr Dwight
    Whilst I sometimes am not able to agree with all of your comments, I have to say I think you have got it dead right this time! Sadly.
    Did I hear the word ‘nepotism’ being whispered in certain places? Who can be sure – but you have only to know where Welby went to school – and then remind yourself of who it is that makes the appointment of the ABC. Forget the Queen – she has absolutely no say in the matter, as in almost everything else that she merely rubber-stamps.
    Was this perhaps an ‘achieved on the playing-fields of Eton’ affair, or was it brought about much more recently in deep and dark places?
    I could make a dreadful pun here about Welby ‘oiling the wheels of Cameron’s well-established secular agenda (having not got much truck from Williams) – same-sex marriage, abortion, free contraception for schoolchildren without their parents’ consent, etc., etc.’ – but that is precisely what I believe he has been appointed to do. If he actually is against these issues, as a fully committed Christian should be, he would say so at the very outset, instead of drivelling on about ‘We must talk to each other and pray about it together’ and sitting on the fence and hoping that no-one will notice when certain Acts are passed in Parliament! What is the man burbling about? There is nothing to pray about and discuss – they are all issues *absolutely* against the timeless order of God our creator. What we ALL need to be praying and talking about is for the Holy Spirit to lead us to a right understanding of what God intends for His world and giving us the strength to stand up for it.
    Curate to Primate in three easy steps? Well – but no – I won’t get into Freemasonry just at this point.
    Thank God for His very own church, founded upon the Rock of Peter against which Satan *cannot* stand.
    On that basis then, I’m not *so* worried about the Welbies and Camerons – or even the Obamas of this world!
    God bless all

    • flyingvic

      I think you’ll find that Thomas Becket, after working in business, was elevated to Canterbury even more quickly than Justin Welby, and that without the ‘benefit’ of an education at Eton. But then, those who wish to make only snide comments and facile judgements, basing them both on a high degree of ignorance, will always find plenty of opportunity to do so.


        Hello There ‘Flyingvic’!
        Gosh – you are so well informed. How right you are about Thomas a’Becket. Ordained priest one day – consecrated Archbishop the next! And look what happened to him after he got on the wrong side of his bosses – but especially Henry!!
        Let us hope for Welby’s sake that he does not fall foul of his bosses also – could be catastrophic for him, couldn’t it? But then, maybe that’s why he, like most other Anglican clerics, remains perched precariously on the fence – not knowing which way to fall!
        As for my ‘snide comments and facile judgements’, it is not, I regret to inform you, anything to do with you just how ignorant or perhaps how *very* carefully informed I happen to be!
        In any case, I nowhere have made a ‘judgement’, I have merely made observations.
        What concerns me so much more are the observations I have tried to make in my 4th paragraph concerning the highly important issues of faith and morals upon which Welby seems to prevaricate, like so many of his brethren. That alone *must* raise questions as to his own spiritual agenda in his leadership of the Anglicans in times to come.
        You seem to have an awful lot to say about spellings but not much about matters of faith and morals. I am sure we would all be so much more interested in what your own faith-based world-view is on these incredibly serious issues of Abortion, Euthanasia, Same-sex marriages (a total misnomer, of course!) and free contraception offered to anyone and everyone from about 13 years up, mostly without their parents’ consent. And perhaps you might also enlighten us upon what you base your beliefs? Mine are based on the Holy Word of God revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the teachings of his Holy Church.
        Your quick and well informed mind should give us a lot to think on.
        Once again – I extend to you my prayers for God’s blessings.
        PS Have you or anyone else actually read Peter Mullen’s column in The Telegraph? I thoroughly recommend it as a real ‘must read’! Now there’s a man who is well-informed!

        • flyingvic

          Thanks, Ray, for a breezy and cheerful reply! So you make observations, not judgements? So nepotism, conspiracy theory and freemasonry are all ‘observations’ rather than ‘judgements’? And not, as I suggested earlier, simply ‘snide comments’?

          Seriously, though, if you have already ‘observed’ these things (since your direct knowledge of the next Archbishop is palpably non-existent), isn’t it about time you had your vision checked and corrected?

          Further, and drawing upon the example of Jesus himself, are you not aware that there are more ways than one to skin a cat, as they say? Did Jesus lay out the details of his mission from Day One? Or did he preach that ‘the Kingdom of God is upon you’ and leave people to draw their own conclusions later on from his life, his parables and his miracles? So why do you demand that a leader of a Church you do not recognise should immediately dance to your particular tune?

          And if it is nothing to do with me how ignorant or well-informed you might be, (and, after all, I can only go on what you post here!) why should the basis of my faith be any business of yours?

          Bless you too.

  • veritas

    Flying Vic,

    It is rare that I have an opportunity to agree with you so I will take it now!

    I too am annoyed when I see the word “separate” misspelled.
    For those who can’t remember, a simple “rule” is – in the word separate the two a’s are separated by an r.

    But Peter, you too have a good point. The ABC is simply a PR man. Nobody, and I mean nobody, in the Anglican Church (or out of it) takes any serious notice of him.

    • flyingvic

      Thank you for your support over spelling, veritas! But what a shame you had to spoil it by spouting that (embittered?) nonsense about nobody in the the Anglican Church (or out of it) taking notice of the ABC! Perhaps I may refer you to the quotation I offered earlier from The Tablet showing the ‘notice’ that recent Pontiffs have taken?

  • veritas

    It has started already!
    The new ABC has said that he supports the idea of women bishops and he is thinking about the same sex marriage issue.

    By the way Flying vic, my comment about his irrelevance was not based on embitterment but on my own expereience in the Anglican Church. The ABC was regarded as a distant figurehead whose opinion was to be totally disregarded if it any way contradicted what the local pastor felt and who would be occasionally quoted- if he happened to support some latest radical cause.

    I will also state that in my years in the Anglican Church I rarely heard a pastor quote from the ABC, either in parish bulletins or during sermons.

    At the very most his word was simply considered one among many and of no authoritative value.

    • flyingvic

      Maybe where you were; certainly not everywhere.

  • joe


    I find your write-up both understandable and also somewhat an exercise in wishful-thinking.
    First, when I read the man’s statement that ” “On the question of homosexual unions. We must continue to pray and discuss together,” I too thought, “Well, here we go…”
    However, your breezy caricature of his theology overall seems shoot-from-the-hip and triumphalistic. After all, I challenge anyone to read the basic “Alpha” course materials and then read Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” and then tell me the former doesn’t seem to lean more than a little bit closer to orthodoxy. But since her is our man, we will bend over backwards to give the Pope every benefit of the doubt, even as he allows Jesuit dissenters good-standing while keeping the SSPX at bay. When Rome is busy trying to canonize JPII in a rush job, and thus enshrine universalism as a de facto if not defined option, if seems awfully selective to make fun of a Protestant guy who for all appearances seems doctrinally orthodox. After all, it is hard to argue that female clergy are any more damaging to the faith outlook of parishioners than male ones who operate under the assumption “We’ll all get saved anyway.” I am simply saying this new ABC seems every bit as sound as many of our Cardinals. Sure, he is not *Catholic*, but why would we expect him to be. Our own cardinals, on the other hand…

  • Edward

    I look forward to the day when somebody from the other well-known church in Brompton is Archbishop of Canterbury.

  • Jay
    • SteveD

      It’s a pity that Pope Benedict didn’t go public about these matters that further estrange the Anglicans from the Church.

  • Patrick Flanagan

    Interesting insights. I love “Yes Prime Minister.”