“This is a time for optimism and faith in the church”

So it’s official. Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

His first press conference was fascinating and, I thought, quite impressive. He expressed his hope for the future of the church—as I’ve quoted in the title of this post—and answered questions (at least the ones I saw before the BBC cut away) with skill. The friends I have in the Diocese of Durham speak very highly of him.

Three things I appreciated about what I saw of his introduction:

  • He wants the church “to be a place where we can disagree in love.” I so strongly share this view and it was so encouraging to hear him highlight it.
  • He is “always averse to the language of exclusion when what we are called is to love in the way Jesus love us.” He challenged himself to listen to the experiences of those he does not know about, referring especially to the LGBT community here. Just wait until the conservative Anglican polemicists jump on him for this. I hope he ignores them.
  • His pectoral cross is (and I believe I’m correct about this) the Cross of Nails from Coventry Cathedral. This is a symbol of the powerful reconciliation work that has emerged from that cathedral since it was destroyed in World War II and which Welby was involved with before becoming Dean of Liverpool. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel and I’m encouraged he has been so involved with this work in its many forms.

As I’ve written, I think Welby’s appointment could be a moment when Anglicans begin to move beyond (but not resolve) the battles of the last decade or more, given his apparent credibility with evangelicals and the church in Nigeria.

The response to his appointment so far seems to have been fairly positive. I take that as good news and as a hopeful sign for Anglicans around the world.

For now, however, Welby goes back to Durham until the end of the year and the fevered speculation can come to a rest. We’ll have to wait until March 21 and his installation to see how all this unfolds.

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