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The “inauguration of the ministry of the one hundred and fifth Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Portal Welby” (as the order of service described it) was a powerful and sometimes moving act of worship.
This was widely reported as an 'enthronement'. But the service on 21 March 2013 managed on the whole to avoid the feudal trappings of this concept, instead emphasising the importance of shared ministry in making God’s love known in the world.
The role combines several aspects. These include being chief bishop of the province of Canterbury, covering southern England and much of the Midlands, and of the Church of England overall, and a central figure in the international Anglican Communion, though member churches are autonomous. Serving as a diocesan bishop in East Kent is another responsibility.
The Church of England is an established church closely linked to the state, with all the drawbacks this involves, and Welby is not especially radical. However he has often emphasised key aspects of Christian social teaching, including concern for the poor and dispossessed.
The service contained elements of tradition, such as swearing an oath of faithfulness on the Canterbury Gospels, probably brought to England by St Augustine in 597, as well as new aspects. When Welby knocked on the door of the cathedral asking for admittance, it was 17-year-old Evangeline Kanagasooriam who greeted and questioned him. “Who are you and why do you request entry?” she asked.
“I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God, to travel with you in his service together,” he replied. He had been “sent as Archbishop to serve you, to proclaim the love of Christ and with you to worship and love him with heart and soul, mind and strength.”
Diversity was a feature of the service. The Archbishop was inducted by Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury (he is a keen supporter of women’s ordination), and there was African drumming and dancing as well as organ music and a choir. The catholic and reformed traditions also featured, with collects for St Benedict and Thomas Cranmer, and ecumenism too was emphasised. A Lutheran bishop read from the book of Ruth, and she was followed by a Roman Catholic archbishop reading from 2 Corinthians.
Liberation from fear through Christ, reconciliation and sharing good news were key themes. In his sermon, after a reading from Matthew’s Gospel in which Peter walks across the water towards Jesus, Welby sounded a note of optimism despite the challenges facing the church.
“Jesus calls through the storms and darkness of life and says ‘Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid,’” he said. “Our response to those words sets the pattern for our lives, for the church, for the whole of society.”
He referred to the freeing of slaves, the passage of Factory Acts and establishment of the National Health Service and social care as examples of a Christian impact in society, as well as social projects such as food banks. There was a strong international dimension, and he mentioned those martyred for their faith.
“We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed,” he urged.
* More on Archbishop Justin Welby from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/JustinWelby
(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate.Tweet