Archbishop-designate No More
  • Monday, February 4, 2013

By John Martin
TLC Correspondent, London

It’s official: We can now call Justin Portal Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury. On Monday St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was the scene of a confirmation ritual begun in the fourth century. Welby is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

When George L. Carey was confirmed in office in 1991 the venue was the crypt of St. Mary le Bow in Eastcheap in the City of London. Apart from members of the church court comprising a handful of bishops, the Dean of Canterbury plus lawyers, attending were immediate family and a handful of observers.

In 2002 Rowan Williams rang changes. He moved the event to St. Paul’s where the court was located at the high altar. To see the action clearly people sitting under the famous St. Paul’s dome would have needed opera glasses. To improve viewing this time round the proceedings were located further forward around the nave altar.

“We have dusted off the ceremony, brought it into the public realm, and put it into the context of prayer and worship,” the Very Rev. David Ison, Dean of St. Paul’s, said in welcoming the congregation.

A confirmation is a session of a major ecclesiastical court. Its arcane format uses the adversarial system still at the heart of British justice. A wigged proctor appeared on behalf of the Dean and Canons of Canterbury and a wigged advocate appeared on behalf of the archbishop-elect.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev. John Sentamu, a handful of senior bishops, the Dean of Canterbury, and wigged lawyers were furnished proof that Welby was no imposter, had duly accepted the job and no objections to his election had been sustained. On this basis he made the declarations officially making him the archbishop.

Originally conducted in Latin, the ceremony has used English since 1733. The proceedings have been streamlined somewhat, but relics of language from another era persisted. So anyone who hereafter might cast doubt on the validity of Welby’s election is to be pronounced contumacious (disobedient). Moreover the validity of the official documents was said to be porrect (free from error).

Scripture readings, three hymns and a sermon were further innovations. From the second letter of Timothy, apposite words for a major Christian leader: “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

The Archbishop of York ascended the pulpit to attack contemporary foibles: “the most self-regarding culture in many centuries”; a culture in which “the phones are smart” but few people are wise, and in which “fast cars are fetishised by those too seduced by speed to contemplate the view through the window.”

He later issued a separate public statement which included a message to the Anglican Communion. “I call upon everyone in the Church of England, and in the wider Anglican Communion, especially those in the global south, to spend time with God on their knees, bringing Bishop Justin, Caroline and their children before him and asking that he be given wisdom, courage and the grace of Jesus Christ.”

Parliament will hold its first vote Tuesday on a same-sex marriage bill which is opposed by the Church of England. Immediately after his confirmation Welby told the assembled media: “I stand, as I have always stood over the last few months, with the statement I made at the announcement of my appointment, which is that I support the Church of England’s position on this. We have made many statements about this and I stick with that.” He would not be drawn into speculation about the results of the Parliamentary vote.

On a momentous day, Welby was in demand elsewhere. A car whisked him off early from the official reception at St Paul’s so he could take part in the continuing Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. The archbishop’s enthronement is scheduled for March 21 in Canterbury Cathedral.

I porrect, moreover, that he has already transferred his Twitter account to @ABCJustin.

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