Archbishop of Canterbury Designated
The Anglican Communion has settled upon Justin Welby to spiritually head their estimated seventy-seven million members worldwide. He is designated to succeed Rowan Williams who is the current Archbishop of Canterbury.
Not knowing much about Bishop Welby, I read a number of newspaper articles about him yesterday. Several headline his being a former oil company executive. Other details include his being a priest since 1993 and Bishop of Durham since 2011. He is 56 years old, has been married since 1979, and his wife Caroline and he have six children (one died). From my reading about Welby, I sense he has a bit of a sense of humour. One quote catching my attention surrounded his claim that he has “a better barber and spends more on razors than Rowan Williams.” (I leave readers to attempt to determine which caption-less image corresponds here with which bishop).
Whatever Welby’s gifts and abilities — and I look forward to learning more about them and seeing them put to use in the wider community he will now serve — I will miss the man Welby replaces. Others can evaluate and reflect upon the impact of Archbishop Rowan Williams on Anglicanism, but a few years ago I heard a story about him which sealed my impression of him.
The story broke, a few years ago, of a man named Alex Renton and his daughter Lulu. Renton writes for The Times, and sends his daughter Lulu, who was six years old at the time, to a Scottish primary school (of some Christian confession). Apparently, there she was encouraged by one of her teachers to write God a letter. The result: “To God. How did you get invented?”
The Renton family is not religious and were taken aback by the letter. Lulu’s father got the idea to ship it off to the Scottish Episcopal Church. No reply came. He then sent the letter to the Presbyterian Church (of Scotland, I presume), but no reply was received. Sending the letter, then, to the Scottish Catholic Church, Renton got a response which Damian Thompson describes as “nice” but “theologically complex.” I interpret this as meaning that the letter was perhaps a little beyond the six-year old.
Renton also sent Lulu’s letter to Lambeth where Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury is stationed. The Archbishop’s responded and that response was made available by the Renton family:
Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this—-
‘Dear Lulu — nobody invented me —- but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.
Then they invented ideas about me —some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints — specially in the life of Jesus —- to help them get closer to what I’m really like.
But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book. I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’
And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.
I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.
+ Archbishop Rowan
Most feel that this was almost definitely the hand of the Archbishop (rather than a secretary of his). The care the Archbishop took to respond, and to respond with something meaningful left the Renton family deeply impressed. It impressed me as well.
Pope Paul VI observed that contemporary person listen more willingly to a witness than to a teacher and that if persons do listen to teachers it is because such teachers have tended first to be seen as witnesses. Through his own concern for another, Archbishop Rowan has powerfully witnessed to the love of Christ in his own life. My prayers will be that the next Archbishop of Canterbury can do the same.
I also write at Musings on Film.