The Most Rev'd and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, will be formally enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral at 2:30 pm London time today. While he is not a "Pope" and his authority even in the Church of England is limited, he is looked to for guidance on spiritual matters by the 80 million members of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the third largest body of Christians on the planet and considered "first among equals" by the Primates (Archbishops and Presiding Bishops) of the 38 autonomous provinces of the Communion of which the Episcopal Church in the United States is one. A new Archbishop of Canterbury is kind of a big deal, especially for the British: his rank in the realm is just below that of the Royal Family itself.
More on His Grace after the orange cloud of incense...
You say goodbye...
The 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams
I say hello...
The 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Archbishop Welby (or +Justin Cantuar as he is entitled to be styled) is a former Dean of Liverpool Cathedral and most recently the Bishop of Durham. He sits in the House of Lords. Following a long-standing tradition of alternating between Anglo-Catholic ("High Church") and Evangelical ("Low Church") choices for the Chair of St. Augustine, Welby is part of the Evangelical wing of Anglicanism--though don't confuse "Evangelical" in the Anglican sense with what we think of in the American sense of the word. The ceremony will be attended by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prime Minister, and about 2000 guests, foreign dignitaries and representatives of world religions.
How is the Archbishop of Canterbury Chosen?
The selection of the Archbishop of Canterbury is different in many ways from the election of a Roman Pontiff. In short, here's how it works:
The retiring Archbishop of Canterbury tells the Queen they want to retire.The Queen then sends the name to the College of Canons, who in a formality, "elect" the candidate. In today's ceremony, he will be enthroned twice: once on the Throne of the See of Canterbury--signifying his Diocesan authority--and then on the Chair of St. Augustine (sent in the 6th Century by Pope Gregory the Great to the English) which symbolizes the Primate of All England and spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. As the Pope claims his line of succession back to St. Peter, the Archbishop of Canterbury claims his back to Augustine of Canterbury. The enthronement is scheduled for 21 March to coincide with the commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, principal author of the first Book of Common Prayer, who is celebrated on this day in the Anglican church calendar.
The Queen accepts the resignation.
The Crown Appointments Commission begins to oversee the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Commission chooses two names and sends them to the Prime Minister for approval.
If the Prime Minister likes the choices, one name is sent to the Queen.
The Queen has the final say.
Welby Promises Hope for Women, LGBT Anglicans
Many Anglicans were sorely disappointed in Dr. Rowan Williams' approach to women's and LGBT issues, especially given his thoughts on human sexuality expressed before he was elevated to Archbishop. By barring V. Gene Robinson, former Bishop of New Hampshire from the Lambeth Conference, he angered many progressive Anglicans especially in the United States.
Archbishop Welby favors the ordination of woman Bishops in the Church of England (some provinces, like the Episcopal Church already ordain women to the Episcopate and in fact our Primate, Katharine Jefferts-Schori is a woman) which is a progressive stance. In fact a female cleric, The Venerable Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury, will formally enthrone him--a bold move in the Church of England. He has also called the Rev'd Jo Bailey Wells as his personal Chaplain.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Katharine Jefferts-Schori. Photo: Episcopal Life Weekly
Predictably, His Grace does not support the ordination of gay Bishops and does not support marriage equality. However, he seems open to revising his position on this, according to The Guardian:
In a pre-enthronement interview with the BBC, Welby said that while he did not have doubts about the church's policy in opposing same-sex marriages he remained "challenged as to how we respond to it".Recently Welby was challenged on his stance on same-sex marriage by LGBT activist Peter Tatchell and Welby has promised to enter into dialogue with him after receiving a letter by Tatchell. Again, The Guardian reports:
"You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship," the 57-year-old said, adding that he had "particular friends where I recognise that and am deeply challenged by it".
"The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman. At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human, is the essential dignity of the human being. And so we have to be very clear about homophobia."
The letter said: "You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic – in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist."The new Archbishop's stance on marriage equality and LGBT issues in general is predictably conservative but refreshingly open to change (I think hopefully and prayerfully of President Obama's journey on these issues). Reading between the lines here, I would not be at all surprised to see an evolution in the Archbishop's thinking, especially since he acknowledges having many gay friends in long-term committed relationships which he honors and speaks of in a truly moving way. Because many Anglicans around the world, especially in Africa, are deeply conservative on issues of human sexuality, I would expect a cautious approach. Nevertheless, this is an interesting development and it is possible that the 105th Archbishop will bring some change and healing on human sexuality to the worldwide Communion.
Welby reportedly emailed Tatchell to thank him for the "very thoughtful" letter and ask whether the pair could discuss the issue "without the mediation of the press".
Tatchell said he was pleased by the reply, saying no previous archbishop, "not even Rowan Williams", had made such overtures. (Emphasis mine.)
Welby and Social Justice
Archbishop Welby has stated that he is deeply influenced by Catholic social justice teaching and admires the Benedictines and Franciscans (he is a Benedictine Oblate). Like Pope Francis, he is noted for humility and being what The Living Church refers to as "self-effacing". Welby also brings a strong background in economics and finance. How he will use that to forward social justice remains to be seen.
As an Anglo-Catholic of a progressive type myself, in some ways I hate to see Dr. Williams go. I have hope, however, that +Justin Cantuar will bring new life to our Communion and I am grateful for his support for the role of women in the Church and prayerful that his stance on LGBT Anglicans as related to the Episcopate and marriage equality will continue to evolve. Fortunately, he has no temporal power over the Episcopal Church in this country (other than the ability to snub us and make himself look bad). On the other hand, should he change his stance on LGBT issues, it would have enormous impact on the Church worldwide and could precipitate schism. We shall wait and see.
In the meantime, we welcome His Grace as our spiritual leader. We could do far worse.