Thursday, March 21, 2013

Profile on the Archbishop of Canterbury: Justin Welby is no fluffy spiritualist – he's the tough leader the church needs

Interesting commentary on the new Archbishop of Canterbury, from here:

The new archbishop of Canterbury will not be easily fazed by the burdens thrust upon him. Welby is a decisive man of action. 
Archbishop Justin Welby visits central London. 
Rowan Williams' parting wish, as he bid farewell to Lambeth Palace after a difficult decade, was that his successor might be blessed with "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros."  
Many are wondering how the new archbishop of Canterbury will cope under similar stress. Justin Welby, a risk-taker and reconciler by nature, is gifted with unusual mental toughness, shaped through personal suffering. His background at Eton, Cambridge and Kensington gives the impression of untroubled privilege, but must be set alongside a broken home, an alcoholic father, and the tragic death of his firstborn daughter aged just seven months. 
While triumphalistic Christians sing exuberant choruses and talk of miraculous healing, Welby knows from firsthand experience that bereavement and tears and unanswered prayers are part of the reality of life. His confidence in the Christian message is wholehearted, but not superficial. He talks freely, not just of social reform and economic regeneration, but of relationship with Jesus Christ as the answer to humanity's deepest needs. His ultimate aim is the reconversion of Britain and his adamantine resilience springs from his faith. 
Welby's doctrinal foundations as an undergraduate were laid at conservative evangelical house-parties, more like a boot-camp than a holiday. The Bible teaching was combined with peeling potatoes, sweeping floors and cleaning lavatories. It instilled both humility and discipline. 
Another profound influence was Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, imprisoned for 12 years by the communist regime in Vietnam, nine of them in solitary. Thuan's example of Christian persistence in extreme hardship is a familiar refrain in Welby's teaching. The archbishop's spiritual director is a Roman Catholic monk in Switzerland who goes to bed at midnight and rises at 4am every morning to pray. To prepare himself for high office, Welby recently undertook a gruelling spiritual retreat at a French monastery, not for the fainthearted. One of the many things he and the new Jesuit pope, Francis I, hold in common is admiration for Ignatius Loyola, the soldier-saint. They don't do fluffy spirituality. 
So archbishop Welby is not easily fazed by the tremendous burdens now thrust upon him as primate of all England and leader of the worldwide Anglican communion. He is unimpressed by holders of power, political or ecclesiastical. His withering put-downs and witty repartee at the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has warmed him to the public. He is happy to embarrass the chancellor of the exchequer and the big banks, or to tackle the coalition on its economic policies. Welby is his own man, determined to speak his mind. His years as a treasurer in the oil industry, and negotiating with militia in the Niger Delta, taught him to be decisive.  
Where Rowan Williams was obfuscatory, Welby's communication is crystal clear. Where Williams was ill at ease with the press, Welby rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck in. Within the Anglican communion, Canterbury's role has become a political football in the tug-of-war between North American revisionists and African conservatives. The archbishop likens it to the brutal conflicts he has encountered during his reconciliation ministry in Nigeria and the Middle East, "only without guns." 
Standing in the crossfire, he is likely to receive a pummelling, but won't take kindly to being kicked about. He begins his public ministry on a wave of optimism amongst those calling for strong spiritual leadership for church and nation.
Read it all here.

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