The ecumenical heart of Archbishop Justin Welby
From the four corners of the earth they came to feel the spirit of Anglicanism; to hear the heartbeat of the Church of England; to watch the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury installed in both the Diocesan Throne and the very marble Cathedral Chair once occupied by such luminaries as Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Becket and, indeed, His Grace, along with a host of relative obscurities since and in between.
You can listen to the commentary on iPlayer, or read the reviews online or the printed press. Some are cynical, some ignorant, some well-meaning. A few are thoughtful and respectful, but they won’t be very widely read for want of a mention of gay marriage or women bishops. Myopic critics bemoan the Archbishop’s single mention of the NHS, oblivious to the fact that he is probably the first primate since Frederick Temple to acknowledge the revolutionary Factory Acts of Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Shafestbury. Yes, indeed, Archbishop Justin gave a nod to ‘One-Nation’ Conservatism, but it was lost on those who ungraciously leap to judgment; who lack tenderness, seeking to find fault or look to the worst in everyone.
The moment the great oak doors of Canterbury Cathedral were flung open, the fanfare seemed to blow away an entire age of theological aloofness and stuffy ecclesiology. We had a new and vibrant liturgical dialogue, written by the Archbishop himself, explaining the whole meaning of the day to a nation that no longer knows or cares. The interrogation by the Christian child, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, was brief. But its illumination could not have been brighter.
“Who are you and why do you request entry?”It was redolent of the ancient Easter liturgy Quem quaeritis?, in which the inspiration of the gospel mission is encapsulated in a four-line question and answer. When you wade through the liturgical splendour and look past the trumpets, drums, robes and royalty, this is just Justin – a Christian pilgrim simply come to worship and love Jesus Christ with all his heart and soul, mind and strength. And he will travel with you in this journey; you will walk together.
“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.”
This theme of ‘togetherness’ was the golden thread woven throughout the whole service. And where we are not yet quite together; where our communion is imperfect or non-existent, there was a hope, a plea for reconciliation. The Dean reminded us;
On this day we remember the anniversaries of the death of Benedict, Abbot of Monte Cassino and patron saint of Europe, whose Rule continues to influence the life of the Church, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose Book of Common Prayer shaped the worship of the Church of England.
And then we had this juxtaposition:
The Collect for St BenedictHis Grace’s ashes were content to say a hearty ‘Amen’ to both collects, for together they are symbolic of true catholicity. It was not possible to see whether certain others could bring themselves to acknowledge His Grace’s ‘renewed’ worship, or say ‘Amen’ in acknowledgement of the price he paid for helping to reform the liturgy, theology and ecclesiology of the Church.
who made Benedict a wise master in the school of your service and a guide to
many called into community to follow the rule of Christ:
grant that we may put your love before all else
and seek with joy the way of your commandments;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever
The Collect for Thomas Cranmer
Father of all mercies,
who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer
renewed the worship of your Church and through his death
revealed your strength in human weakness:
by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in
truth and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom:
through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Advocate,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
The Archbishop of York then affirmed:
The Church of England is part of the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds; which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?To which the Archbishop of Canterbury replied:
I, Justin Portal Welby, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon.Whatever creed you may believe, intone or recite, this is the essence of the Anglican Christian Faith, of which the Queen is Supreme Governor and Defender. Some of you may demur, but please do so with grace, tenderness and humility, for you, too, may be in error, at least partially. For now we see but in a mirror dimly: not until the Wedding Feast of the Lamb will we see face-to-face, and not until then will everything will be made perfectly known.
By signing the Ecumenical Covenant, Archbishop Justin pledged to work toward unity with other Christian denominations. Some may baulk at that, but it was the will of the Lord that His disciples be one. Wherever there is schism or division, it is the name of Jesus that is dragged through the mud.
It was moving to hear His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain address Archbishop Justin as ‘Dear brother in Christ’, and the Reverend Michael Heaney, Moderator of the Free Churches Group, affirm that it was Augustine, the first Archbishop, who brought the gospel to England ‘to renew the Church in this land’.
There was here a glimmer of a new ecumenical age of ARCIC dialogue and Churches Together. Archbishop Justin pledge himself ‘to strive for the full and visible unity of Christ’s Church in truth and love’.
His challenge – as it is for all church leaders – will be striving for unity while managing human diversity. But at least he makes no pretence at perfect harmony: his strategy is to reconcile man to man whilst avoiding the destructive inclinations of the human heart to crush opposition and stifle dissent. It is ‘Christ who reconciles us to God and breaks down the walls that divide us’.
In his sermon – prefaced ‘Commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Feast of St Benedict’ – Archbishop Justin again emphasised his favoured themes of togetherness and reconciliation. “Fear imprisons us and stops us being fully human,” he observed. But ‘love liberates holy courage’. And, in the presence of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, he reminded the priests of secularity that:
For more than a thousand years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God; by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community. Sometimes we have done better, sometimes worse. When we do better we make space for our own courage to be liberated, for God to act among us and for human beings to flourish. Slaves were freed, Factory Acts passed, and the NHS and social care established through Christ-liberated courage. The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary courage.And then he returned to the leitmotif of Benedict and Cranmer:
…Today we may properly differ on the degrees of state and private responsibility in a healthy society. But if we sever our roots in Christ we abandon the stability which enables good decision making. There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rootedness in Christ. Jesus calls to us over the wind and storms, heed his words and we will have the courage to build society in stability.
All the life of our diverse churches finds renewal and unity when we are reconciled afresh to God and so are able to reconcile others. A Christ-heeding life changes the church and a Christ-heeding church changes the world: St Benedict set out to create a school for prayer, and incidentally created a monastic order that saved European civilisation.On which we still draw?
The more the Church is authentically heeding Jesus’ call, leaving its securities, speaking and acting clearly and taking risks, the more the Church suffers. Thomas Cranmer faced death with Christ-given courage, leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw.
This doesn’t sound like an archbishop who will obligingly bow to the gods of this age or meekly roll over when Parliament asserts its immutable creed of uniformity. Transformation, renewal and reconciliation precede the confident declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ. You may not agree with every word Archbishop Justin utters or every pragmatic decision he takes in the service of the Church, but don’t ever judge the man’s heart or motives. For he has declared himself to be, like St Benedict, a man of prayer and contemplation; possessing the courage, like Archbishop Cranmer, to take risks in defence of the Truth.
He needs our prayers