THE next Archbishop of Canterbury has said he is “utterly optimistic” about the future of the Church of England, in spite of the “hard issues” it faces on women bishops and sexuality.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, spoke of the “massive sense of privilege” of being responsible for the leadership of the Church of England as Downing Street confirmed his appointment as successor to Dr Rowan Williams.
He said: “To be nominated to this post is both astonishing and exciting. It is something I never expected, and the last few weeks have been a very strange
“It is exciting because we are at one of those rare points where the tide of events is turning and the Church nationally, including the Church of England, has great opportunities to match its very great but often hidden strengths.”
In a relaxed statement and question-and-answer session at Lambeth Palace, attended by his wife, Caroline, and their five children, Bishop Welby paid tribute to Dr Williams, saying he believed he would be recognised as “one of the greatest” arch-bishops of Canterbury.
He said he backed a Church of England bishops’ statement in the summer that was highly critical of government proposals to introduce gay marriage, but he warned there must be “no truck with any form of homophobia” in any part of the Church.
He urged the General Synod to vote later this month in favour of giving final approval to legislation introducing the first women bishops, saying he was “deeply committed” to the ordination of women.
Bishop Welby also paid tribute to the grassroots work of the Church of England in its parishes, and spoke of the “great privilege” of serving under a number of bishops, including Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu.
He praised his diocese of Durham, where he was enthroned as bishop less than a year ago, saying leaving would be “one of the hardest” things.
Bishop Welby went on: “It is an astonishing part of the country, one which, as a family, we were greatly looking forward to living in for many years.
“The people are direct, inspiring and wonderfully friendly. In many ways, it has been the ancient cradle of British Christianity. It is a place of opportunity and an even greater future than its past.”
The 56-year-old former oil executive, who was educated at Eton and Cambridge, will be
enthroned as archbishop at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March.
He takes over from Dr Williams who leaves at the end of this year after a decade in post, to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
In his speech, Bishop Welby said the “providence of God” had surrounded him and his wife through tragedy and joy, an apparent reference to the loss of their infant daughter Johanna in a car crash in 1983.
Veteran singer Sir Cliff Richard was among those to welcomed the new Archbishop of Canterbury, wishing him “all of God’s blessings”.
Richard, an outspoken Christian, said Bishop Welby had been given one of the world’s toughest jobs.
Known for smash hits such as Summer Holiday and Congratulations, the 72-year-old was attending a tribute in his honour at the Dorchester Hotel in central London.
Asked about Bishop Welby’s appointment, he said: “It sounds to me like he is a very well-educated man and anybody who has got experience is going to be good at this kind of a job.