The new Archbishop of Canterbury is the epitome of what I am talking about. Dr Welby was a lay pastor at Holy Trinity, Brompton, and trained as a priest at the same time that Alpha was going global. He was what the satirists call “HTB-positive”. But neither his worldly, ecclesiastical or intellectual career has been narrow. Oilman, Francophile (he was France’s honorary consul in Liverpool when he was Dean there), peacemaker in Nigeria, admirer of the Benedictine order, he has never worn the straitjacket of a sect. When he was at Liverpool, his slogan was that the cathedral was “a safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service”. Faith as risk, rather than as bogus certainty, would seem the right idiom for the modern Church of England.
Just now, hopes are high. I have talked to Church people who actively dislike evangelicals, but even they express complete trust in Dr Welby’s openness. No one expects a war between High and Low, Anglo-Catholics and Bible-bashers. They expect an archbishop who will speak bravely to England, and the wider world, in clear English, about the claims that Jesus makes on the life of society and on each human being.
Obviously some of these hopes will be dashed. Churches are probably the most disputatious organisations in the world. The Anglican Communion, at whose head Dr Welby will find himself, is ungovernable. If he does not recognise this at once, and find a way of stepping aside from executive responsibility over it, he will be dragged down by its squabbles, just like poor Dr Rowan Williams.
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