Justin Welby, a former oil-industry executive, is being enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the 85 million-strong Anglican communion.
The ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral, attended by Prince Charles and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, was scheduled to include prayers to remember Thomas Cranmer, one of Welby’s predecessors as archbishop, who was burned at the stake 457 years ago today.
Cameron is attending the service to officially inaugurate Welby as successor to Rowan Williams at the head of the Church of England after telling Christian groups his government cares about them following a rift over gay marriage, which Welby called a “challenge” for the church. Speaking at an Easter reception in his Downing Street, London, office late yesterday, the premier said “this government does care about faith.”
The government’s legislation to introduce gay marriage earlier this year split Cameron’s own Conservative Party and was attacked by most of the country’s religious groups. In an interview with the BBC that aired today, Welby said that while he supports the church’s policy opposing same-sex relationships, he finds it challenging.
“You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship,” Welby said. “I recognize that and am deeply challenged by it.”
For today’s ceremony, Welby, 57, waited outside the cathedral while a letter from Queen Elizabeth II, the supreme governor of the church, was read out authorizing the clergy to greet the new archbishop. He struck the door of the cathedral three times with his pastoral staff before it was opened to him. He then said: “I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you in his service together.”
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was given the role of asking Welby to swear an oath of faithfulness to the statutes of the Church of England and an oath of faithfulness to the queen. The service involves the archbishop being enthroned on the diocesan chair as the local bishop and then on the seat of St. Augustine as the Primate of All England.
Welby, whose father’s family were German Jewish immigrants who moved to the U.K. in the 19th century to escape anti-Semitism, according to a biography on his website, is the first holder of the post with hands-on experience of the corporate-bond market and trading derivatives.
After graduating from the University of Cambridge with a degree in history and law, Welby joined the oil industry, first at French explorer Elf Aquitaine SA, taking him to work in Paris for a time. He worked on projects in West Africa and the North Sea.
The last five years of his oil career were spent at London-based Enterprise Oil Plc, where he became group treasurer, a role that would have put him in charge of the company’s cash and managing relationships with the banks.
Cameron told church leaders yesterday his government “does care about the institutions of faith, and it does want you to stand up and oppose aggressive secularization.”
Welby was among bishops on March 10 to attack plans to cap welfare-payment increases as the government tries to reduce its spending. At a private meeting with Conservative lawmakers this month, one urged Cameron to hit back at the bishops, a suggestion the prime minister rebuffed, according to one person present. Instead, the premier last night praised the work of churches in their communities.
The prime minister reminded his audience that in a “difficult budget” yesterday, the government had reaffirmed its commitment to increasing overseas aid. He said he’d raised religious freedom on visits to Egypt and Pakistan. “Wherever we go, we stand up for the right of Christians to practice their faith,” he said.
Cameron quoted from a sermon he heard on Sunday that linked the announcement of the new pope to his parish church’s administrative meeting.
“Institutions matter, whether they’re representing the billions of Catholics in the world or whether they’re representing the small local institutions,” he said.
The prime minister joked that he’d been heartened to read that Welby had initially been told he was a terrible candidate to become a Church of England minister.
“At one stage in the Conservative Party leadership contest, George Osborne told me to call it all off, it wasn’t going anywhere,” Cameron said. “So I now have an affinity with the archbishop.”