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Justin Welby: A TLC interview

The Rt. Rev. Justin P. Welby was consecrated as Bishop of Durham in September 2011, and reportedly has accepted appointment as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. Daniel H. Martins interviewed his brother bishop by email soon after Welby visited the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in March.

Two of your predecessors (David Jenkins and N.T. Wright) drew frequent headlines for very different reasons. For what do you hope to be best known, in headlines or otherwise?
My main ambition would be not to be too much in the headlines at all, as given the state of the British Press it would probably mean I had done something immensely stupid. However, if I had to be there are about three areas that really seem to be coming to the fore.

The first is the need for the Church to grow in numbers, and in spiritual depth. I am in the middle of planning, with my colleagues, a long-term program of evangelization which will involve three or four missions a year across the diocese, covering the entire diocese every five years. In each of those, both bishops will live in the area of work and two years will have been spent in preparation. We are trying to avoid an “up with the rocket down with the stick” approach, and going rather for a steady-state push that does not exhaust people but leads to a cultural change that says it is normal for us to share our faith. So that would be one thing.

Secondly, for that to happen in this area it has got to be clear that the Church is working effectively with those on the edge. The biggest issues we face at the moment are around loan sharking and its consequent evils, and very high youth unemployment. It would be really wonderful to see headlines about the churches’ contribution to facing these social issues. In terms of the local economy we are quite a major employer, and because of our huge number of extremely old buildings (one of our churches has been in continual use since A.D. 640 and many since the 10th or 11th century) we are able to generate significant employment when we can find the funds to do work on our churches.

Thirdly, I suppose I would like to be known, in headlines or otherwise, as a bishop who cared about God and cared about the people. However, I think I know my own lack of spirituality too well!

Based on your experience in reconciliation ministry, what thoughts would you offer to Episcopalians who work for reconciliation within our province?
My own experience of reconciliation goes back many years, but I have to say that the issues faced by Episcopalians and Anglicans working in any part of the Communion on the issues within the Communion are really difficult. Reconciliation within churches is one of the toughest areas because the issue of faith goes so deep into people’s minds and souls. I think I would have two thoughts to offer at this stage to Episcopalians, and I have to say that from the Church of England we are not in a position of being holier than thou or being in a position to judge, and I am very aware of our own frailty.

First, we all need to remember that reconciliation at some point is an obligation, and will be inevitable once we are in heaven. Since all Christians are stuck with each other for eternity it is not a bad idea to learn to love each other before we get to the point of death.

Secondly, reconciliation is not an event but a long process; like all processes it has to have a starting point. That might be as little as a cup of coffee with someone with whom you immensely disagree with a mutual understanding that you will talk about things you can agree on, or things of faith that are common rather than focusing on what you disagree on. The biggest enemies of reconciliation are indifference and hurry.

Corporate scandals leave some Americans feeling angry and handicapped in working for a just society. What encouragement would you offer from your experience in corporations and your thinking about ethics and finance?
You mention corporate scandals, and we have had plenty of those. My own view is that the pay of many of our top executives in the big hundred companies in the U.K. is outrageous and even obscene. Although it is in some cases lower than that in the U.S., when you take into account the smaller size of our companies, proportionate to their turnover (sales in American) they are paid significantly more. This is especially true in the financial services industry, as it is with you. One of our most senior bankers, a practicing Christian, has spoken of the moral vacuum in the City of London, and the issue of how you fill vacuums is how you have to start. They can either be filled with good or they can continue as vacuums, which means that evil predominates.

We need to get to the point that we have arrived at in the past (because this is a cyclical problem that we have experienced before, especially in the late 1920s and in the 1930s) where there is a change of heart and a general recognition that being paid vast multiples of other people’s pay is not acceptable in a society that wishes to be happy and secure. Ethics is both caught and taught and the Church needs to set a very clear example. That will be especially important in the way that Church money is invested and the way Church leaders behave in terms of their own power and position and use of hierarchy.

I think the biggest challenge for us at the moment is to reinvent the idea of what a bishop is, with a much more obvious emphasis on servant leadership than we at some times show. Quite often our liturgies of consecration of bishops and general liturgical practice emphasize to the unschooled observer the importance of the bishop, not the importance of Christ. That of course may be much more true here than it is in the U.S.

The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, Bishop of Springfield, serves on the board of the Living Church Foundation.

Bishop Justin Welby


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