Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

New Archbishop proves he can handle God and man

Cross to bear: Dr Justin Welby who has been appointed as the new Archbishop of Canterbury

At a time when the BBC has been making a public fool of itself and teaching everyone how not to communicate, it is refreshing to watch how Dr Justin Welby, the Archbishop-elect of Canterbury, is already displaying the forensic skills of an investigative journalist.

His personal story has moved on since the announcement of his appointment last Friday. Only three days ago, however, he had already moved on, and wore his other non-clerical hat, as a member of the National Banking Commission in London.

During a cross-examination by the commission he scolded the top managers whose banks have been giving poor service to customers like you and me.

Using his business experience as a former oil executive Dr Welby asked penetrating financial questions and when he did not receive the replies he wanted, he told the banking chiefs what he thought of them.

It was significant that Dr Welby, currently the Bishop of Durham, was sitting on the committee wearing a large cross. This gave him extra authority to ask not only technical questions but also to reflect on the morality of much of today's banking practices.

Dr Welby's shrewd questioning of the high-powered financiers will have done him no harm as he prepares to take over his challenging role as archbishop next March.

He is well-equipped to talk not only about God but also about Mammon, and this exposure to the media will have done as much for him already as some of the sermons he will deliver as archbishop. He already is demonstrating that a man of the cloth can be other-worldly when talking about the life hereafter, and also a man of the world who can deal with questions which affect people's daily lives, and not least their finances.

The retiring Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, is a warm, gracious individual with a sharp mind, but in his clerical robes and pointed hat (with beard and bushy eyebrows) he looks every inch an other-worldly academic.

There is nothing wrong with that, in the ivory towers of academia. However, more is required of a church leader in the age of mass media where even one television debate between the presidential candidates in the US can have a significant effect on the election. It would be wrong to suggest, nor am I doing so, that the clergy do not have experience of everyday life. Just like doctors, nurses, lawyers, policemen, journalists and many others , the clergy are regularly confronted with the harsher side of life, including violence, betrayal, illness, tragedy and death.

The trouble is that the church at large is perceived by non -churchgoers as remote and irrelevant. It is part of the modern nonsense that the church should confine itself to the Bible and Sunday worship, and leave the real world to others.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole point about Christianity is that it deals with the nitty-gritty of life, as well as pointing to the joy and fulfilment of a faith lived out, and the promise of a life to come.

The clergy and people at all levels should study more closely the courageous life and language of Jesus Christ Himself, who did not pull his punches when he spoke about the nitty-grittys of his day, including greed, hypocrisy, pride, hardness of heart, sin, and much else.

It is early days yet for the archbishop-elect, but if the plain-speaking Dr Welby can continue to share the Gospel in his compelling and practical way with people of all church backgrounds and of none, he may yet prove to be one of the most effective and respected archbishops of modern times.

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