Friday, November 9, 2012

Will Dr Welby be the right medicine for the C of E?

Another election has been going on, that of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, current Bishop of Durham.  Of course, it's really only an election within the Super Secret Crown Nominations Committee.  And we found out early,  because the bookies in England saw a run up on his name;  apparently some people did the equivalent of insider trading prior to the announcement.  Yet the British find our democratic polity "unseemly". Go figure.
From the Guardian

Bishop Welby is an interesting guy, very Establishment (Eton and Cambridge), with a distinguished career in the oil business.  So he had a profession apart from the Church, reminiscent of TEC Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori.  It seems that his path started to change with the tragic death of his infant daughter 30 years ago.  Since ordination in '93, he's had a meteoric rise, including Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, and has only been Bishop for a year.

He represents the "Evangelical" side of the Church of England, not to be confused with the American definition of Evangelical (which in the US is often paired with "fundamentalist" or "wingnut").  It's apparently traditional to go back and forth between the Evangelical and Catholic sides for ABC;  think of this as the long-standing balance between low Church and high Church, Roundhead and Cavalier, Wesley and Newman, Cambridge and Oxford....

He also has a strong background in conflict resolution particularly in Africa, which he'll need to wrangle the Anglican Communion and the disparate parts of the Church of England.  I suspect this is a huge part of his nomination.

Welby is pro-women bishops and while he has been an opponent to marriage equality in the past, apparently his views are "evolving". Really?  Hmmmm.

This matters in the UK, where there are robust civil unions but a strong movement (driven by the Tories, believe it or not....take a lesson, Republicans) for civil marriage.  The CofE has been adamantly opposed.  Welby's a supporter of the emphatically negative Bishop's statement, as discussed in these comments at The Lead, and has reaffirmed his support for it.  So perhaps he's just being politic.  Yes, I'm a cynic.

Remember,  there is no separation of Church and State in the UK.  The bishops of the CofE sit in the House of Lords, along with life peers and hereditary peers.  (Think of our Senate not being elected, but full of Bishops and Romneys and Bushes!)   And if you are the average Brit, pretty much you are entitled to get married in the Church if you want to, so they can't just send you along to the registrar's office for not being a formal member.  And therefore, they get to make the rules for all the other churches too.

I have many friends in the UK, most of whom are scientists and basically small-r republicans.  They don't really like the idea of the Queen, and most are not believers or practitioners of faith.  The CofE is relevant to them only as a residual cultural identity. For the Church to adamantly opposed civil marriages is infuriating to them, and driving the church into complete irrelevance.

It's the challenge of how to be prophetic in a modern world, rather than wistful for a past long gone.

Generally, people seem to be hopeful about Welby.  And he has a sense of humor.
“I’ve got a better barber and spend more on razors than Rowan Williams.”
I hope he has a better idea of how to unite his fractious Communion than Williams did.


David said...

"I hope he has a better idea of how to unite his fractious Communion than Williams did."

He could start by recognizing TEC as the other founding member of the Anglican Communion, instead of treating us like "that" relative who gets reluctantly invited to family functions because they have to, not because they want to.

Bitter ? cynical ? who, me ?

Counterlight said...

I second David's comment.

I must admit that I've been asleep through this conclave and missed the white smoke ... and I don't really care.

Marshall Scott said...

There was a press conference, and after it a question and answer period. One of his comments about the Episcopal Church was, "It's not my place to tell them how to [live the faith], and I'm not about to do that." I have seen elsewhere statements from him respectful of the Episcopal Church after his presence at our House of Bishops Retreat.

JCF said...

Marshall! I don't recall seeing you at FoJ's before: welcome! :-)

Yes, I'm having difficulty getting a good read on +(++)Welby (the Good & the Bad). Perhaps that's a good thing.