Justin Welby: an archbishop who could do the business

Justin Welby: an archbishop who could do the business

The man expected to be the next archbishop of Canterbury, with his background in Eton and oil, appreciates the realities of power

The most notable thing about Justin Welby is that no one has gone round badmouthing him. There were other candidates who – like him – have no enemies, but none who have no critics, and the others who have no enemies were widely thought to be too dull or just too sane to take the job.

Welby, however, has praise from all corners of the church and he carries the promise of being able to talk as if the Church of England doesn’t matter very much. That may seem like an odd qualification to be archbishop of Canterbury, but it may be the essential one today. The temptation for any archbishop is to suppose he is a terribly important figure. The job would expose him to continuous attacks, but would also constantly stroke and inflate his vanity. The gap between pretension and reality is one into which far too many bishops and archbishops simply disappear. Welby appears to be grounded by a rather Etonian appreciation of the brutal realities of power.

“We could send him as an emissary to Nigeria and know that if he was needed to grovel, he could grovel,” says Viv Faull, the incoming dean of York who worked closely with him in Coventry, where he started his church career, and later when he was dean of Liverpool and she was dean of Leicester. “He joined the English Cathedral Executives, which I chair. He was utterly supportive, enthusiastic in enabling me to do my job. Everyone in Coventry has said how effective he is. He has a disarming self-deprecation: he is always assuming the best of other people.” Then she added: “I don’t know how easy it is to know the real Justin Welby.”

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