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Prayers for Bishop Justin Welby

Cross-posted from Shreds and Patches

It now seems clear that Bishop Justin Welby of Durham will be nominated to the See of Canterbury. A press release from 10 Downing Street is expected tomorrow, Friday. In one respect tradition is being honored. Bishop Welby hails from the Evangelical wing of the Church of England. The see of Canterbury tends to go alternatively to moderate Catholics and moderate Evangelicals. Tradition will also be observed by his name being sent by the nominator, the Queen, to the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral, a body which will in effect endorse Bishop Welby as bishop of the Canterbury Diocese. After that the Court of Arches will determine that all legal matters have been observed. The archbishop-elect will then meet with the Queen and “kiss hands.” No doubt all this will be timed to meet with the schedule of whatever movers Dr. Williams has engaged.

In other aspects the appointment of Justin Welby isn’t traditional at all. He’s been a bishop for less than a year. He has spent most of his ministry as a parish priest. He’s a late vocation, having been an oil executive and money man before his ordination.

The Bishop does come from the upper crust of British society. His mother is married to a Peer, and the bishop was educated at Eton. On the other hand he seems to have the common touch, is regarded as a kind, compassionate man, a good listener, and a Christian who really believes in the power and necessity of reconciliation. Despite his evangelicalism — he was converted through the ministry of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, the home of Alpha — and his opposition to gay marriage, +Justin was a hit when he attended a recent meeting of the TEC House of Bishops.

I watched a video of him addressing Durham clergy recently. He proposed the novel idea that instead of creating a diocesan budget and imposing a tax on the parishes, the parishes should meet, decide how much they can afford to pledge to the diocese without crippling their ministry and that the diocese would then construct a budget based on these pledges. (I used the same method when I served as a bishop. It transformed a sullen process at Convention to a joyful experience in which parishes would compete to pledge extra funds to make up any shortfall.) +Justin has also proposed a program aimed at making evangelism a normal part of parish life, much in line with that which we are creating here in the Springfield Diocese.

Dr. Welby is an experienced executive and manager. No doubt it is hoped that he will rationalize the administration of Lambeth Palace and the Church of England and its finances. He’s a man of courage who has narrowly escaped danger in visits to northern Nigeria fairly recently. He and his wife have experienced personal tragedy in the loss of a child in a car wreck. He is approachable and down to earth. One hopes he will break from the “minders” who shield archbishops from contact with lesser mortals.

I have two worries. +Justin seems to be a devotee of subjective worship, the idea that worship must make us feel good and be a potent way to evangelize. While it is good that evangelicals have a much greater appreciation of the sacraments, and have, by and large, dropped their objections to ceremonial, while they view the Eucharist as a sort of emotive God-Pill, they miss the crux of the Eucharistic offering as sacrifice, the one sacrifice of Jesus and our own self-sacrifice in union with the Church militant and triumphant.

My second concern is for the Diocese of Durham. Bishop Welby in a year has done so much to restore morale and vision to the diocese. He has instituted plans which will need leadership to succeed. I fear that his passion and vision will be squandered in the present reality of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England while the Durham diocese will suffer dramatically by losing its new bishop.

The prayers of faithful Anglicans across the globe will be with +Justin, his wife and family as he translates. I hope that our prayers will also be with the Durham diocese together with hopes that they will get a new bishop as soon as possible and someone able to inspire and manage the program for growth and renewal in that impoverished see.


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