Canterbury to become a fully-fledged See of Twitter

Canterbury to become a fully-fledged See of Twitter

For the first time in history, the announcement of who would succeed to the See of Canterbury was seen first on twitter (via the @Number10press office), before the formal Downing Street and Lambeth announcements of the archbishop elect.

Now Bishop Justin Welby, who will be enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013, has declared that he will continue to make use of the popular social media site - though he spoke knowingly of its dangers.

Before "the announcement" he had 2,500 twitter followers. Now he's approaching 6,000 and growing. It's going well so far, then.

His first tweet after a silence probably necessitated by the impending news of his elevation was on the afternoon of that historic day, 9 November.

With the wryness that seems to be one of the characteristics of the man, he wrote: "Just heard of protest call to Lambeth at appointment of a woman as ABC. Am spelt Justin, not Justine. No agenda, just a matter of fact."

In fact, Welby supports women bishops enthusiastically... and therefore, we assume, women archbishops eventually. Watch this space.

His current twitter biography tells us that, true to his optimistic word yesterday, he "encourages flourishing, reconciled churches which love and worship Jesus and seek to change the world."

In making his early interactive intervention, Bishop Welby also had the courage to defy satirist @ChurchSnobTEC, who tweeted: "Signs the church is in serious trouble: All its most clever members spend Friday nights on Twitter."

Earlier on, at the Lambeth press conference in the aptly-titled Guard Room, the archbishop-elect endeared himself straight away to the hard-bitten press pack by making a series of jokes in between recording his serious points.

He quipped, “This is the best kept secret since the last Cabinet reshuffle,” in reference to days of speculation that he was to be appointed to the archbishopric.

(Journalist turned priest @MartinWroe then took to twitter to add: "Apparently tomorrow @lambethpalace will be announcing yesterday's weather.")

Asked how he felt when he was offered the job, Bishop Welby admitted his first reaction had been one of “Oh no!”

Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill noted on Facebook that "of all the stories I wrote yesterday about the new Archbishop of Canterbury, this is my favourite: 'There was a slight hitch when he went for his interview with the late Bishop of Kensington, John Hughes. Hughes was not impressed. He told the future archbishop: “There is no place for you in the modern Church of England. I have interviewed a thousand candidates for ordination and you do not come in the top thousand.” It took him another year to get his place as an ordinand. His spiritual journey then took him down a more catholic route.'

In other web 2.0 news, the 'Yes 2 Women Bishops' campaign (http://yes2womenbishops.blogspot.co.uk)) is facilitating an on-line lobby of General Synod members, as we have reported elsewhere.

A good thing, too. Though it has to be said that the website's anonymous creator was more than a little sniffy when Power 2010 and Ekklesia organised a similar initiative a couple of years ago, encouraging people to write to Bishops in the Lords to urge them to back second chamber reform, including reform of their own unelected status.

The idea that members of the public might write to those placed in the national legislature and ask them to be accountable to someone other than their own institutions was regarded as unbearable by some - especially when many thousands did (and drew their own conclusions when they got no reply).

Hopefully a culture of greater openness and communication will be unfolding under the auspices of the new interactive archbishop - who has considerable diplomatic and management skills, as well as a deftly self-deprecatory touch.

Old habits of misplaced control-freakery may die hard around him, though. Channel 4 News' anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who conducted a friendly TV interview with Bishop Welby yesterday evening, reported that "his press officer (who perhaps had watched one too many episodes of 'The Thick of It') interrupted the interview after five minutes to tell me to ask a final question."

Meanwhile, of his own tweeting future as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Welby added: “It is quite dangerous trying to say things in 140 characters and can lead you into all sorts of deep water, but, yes, I intend to go on doing that.”

That's the spirit!

* Follow the archbishop-to-be on twitter: https://twitter.com/Bishopofdurham (presumably the handle will change at some point)

* Krishnan Guru-Murthy interview, 'An untroublesome priest?': http://blogs.channel4.com/gurublog/an-untroublesome-priest/2937

* More from Ekklesia on Justin (not Justine) Welby: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/justinwelby

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. His twitter address is @simonbarrow and his chapter 'Religion and new media: changing the story' appears in the new book Religion and the News, edited by Jolyon Mitchell and Owen Gower (Ashgate, October 2012), which "presents insights from leading journalists and religious leaders, many well-known figures, writing openly about their experiences."

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