Coffee House

Why Old Etonian Justin Welby is good news for the CofE

8 November 2012

So, another Old Etonian at the apex of the British establishment: Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, will be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s sweet, in a way. All we need now is an OE named as Bank of England Governor, and David Cameron’s alma mater will have the complete power set.

But it would be wrong to be too chippy about Welby’s elevation. Representatives at Number 10 actually pushed for John Sentamu, the charismatic conservative African, who had the blessing of, among others, Rod Liddle. But they got Welby instead. And why not? He seems a worthy enough choice, regardless of his ‘lack of experience’ as a bishop – he’s a former oil executive who saw the light. He’s also, as Damian Thompson notes, a former worshipper at Holy Trinity, Brompton, the evangelical church in Knightsbridge (ahem), and home of the Alpha Course.

Alpha is widely mocked as a dating circle for privileged evangelicals, but it is more than that. It is one of the few vibrant operations in the Church of England, one which specialises in taking over failing parishes and bringing them to life. If Welby can bring some of the dynamism of Holy Trinity Brompton to Lambeth Palace, then the future of the Church of England might be looking up.

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Show comments
  • Silverghost

    It’s not easy for any new AoC. The CofE is like a nationwide chain of hat shops; at one time, everyone wore hats, even James Bond, but more and more people decided not to, except on special occasions. He now has this massive expensive structure that few people frequent, with no chance of convincing more people to start wearing hats again.
    Managed decline is his best option, with some serious downsizing.


    Just heard the new Druid on Radio 4. Usual and expected guff about social justice and going forward.
    Less Archbish of Canterbury, more President of the Central Committee of Occupy.

  • Reality37

    Take one look at him. He is probably a lovely guy. But relevant? In the 21st Century? He looks like an old Druid. The idea that he or his organisation has any relevance to the vast majority of Britons is laughable and deluded. The guy is an old has-been as his

    superstitious nonsense Church. Someone once said Christians are mentally ill. The evidence that they are not?

    • WillyTheFish


      Well, if your mindless sneering arrogance is indicative of sanity…..

  • Sarah

    If men feel left out by all the Etonian promotion, think how women feel, they’re not even allowed to attend the place.

    • Reality37

      Don’t worry Sarah. You do not necessarily get a good education there. Just look at Cameron. He could not even answer what Magna Carta meant on the Letterman show. And the way he is running the British economy into the ground shows the paucity of his education.

  • TomTom

    Earlier an Etonian was rejected for the role and John Habgood never got to become Archbishop sinve Thatcher preferred Carey

  • Jupiter

    The big question is “Does he believe in God?”


      Wouldn’t He be known these days as a mere ‘Patriarchal, Paternalistic, Hegemonic, Bourgeois Construct’?

    • Reality37

      The big question is what evidence does he have that there is a God? Voices in his head. Don’t we call that mental illness?

      • JL

        No, more likely he realises that materialism is an utterly absurd and self-refuting creed to hold. And perhaps he’s read Aquinas’ Five Ways (unlike a certain prominent atheist and his legion of parrots, who haven’t, though it doesn’t stop them pretending they have).

  • cg

    Bad choice. HTB is a magnet for affluent middle class people who wave their arms in the air and think Jesus is their boyfriend. I would have preferred a candiate who could appeal more to the rest of the church.

  • wrinkledweasel

    HTB is excellent at looking after all those poor posh people. Indeed it is acceptable to be openly posh and openly Etonian in it.

    • Mathias Broucek

      It’s in Kensington……

  • Mathias Broucek

    Irishboy, It’s easy to mock guitar-led worship. But whilst ancient church music has its virtues, it’s culturally irrelevant to most believers and nearly all non-believers

    Holy Trinity Brompton and churches like it succeed because they have
    chosen to follow an even older tradition of cultural relevance. After all, Jesus never set out to create a group of museums to worship cultural history, rather He was concerned to engage with people where they were.

    • Coffeehousewall

      HTB may be culturally relevant for a few at this particular moment in time, but it is entirely divorced from the Apostolic Tradition of Christianity and does not teach or promote a Christian spirituality. It is a reflection of our modern individualistic, consumerist society.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Personally, I think “culturally irrelevant” is eminently debatable. There is a longevity and tradition in faith, as well as a gravity, that can be celebrated too and is therefore still culturally relevant to many English Christians. Discarding these traditions in favour of happy clappy trendyness might be fine for some and in keeping with Britain’s CoE socialist trend but your dismissal of older forms of worship is needlessly arrogant and judgemental.


      As culturally irrelevant as the idea that one may die for truth and goodness, as opposed to the contemporary maxim which is to murder and annihilate those who disagree with you?

      Here’s an old question some people may remember from their grammar school days. Compare and contrast the following:


      • Baron

        point well made, Irishboy, but then isn’t it comforting they’re inside singing songs rather then outside mugging people?

        • IRISHBOY

          I find it beyond comprehension that anyone would think it suitable that worship of God should not involve our greatest gift. Our minds.

          Does all that strumming do anything more than merely block inadequately for a moment all the questions, mysteries, doubts that are inherently the greater part of consciousness? Do not the lines of William Byrd weave through our synapses, knitting a contemplative meditative healing path, taking our minds beyond ourselves to a waking unconscious and allowing good to enter?

          It’s like having Blythburgh Church, or York Minster to hand, but choosing instead to worship in some ghastly, unsafe, formless construction built by people with no knowledge, nor any impulse of duty or service to acquire any, of architecture, engineering, bricklaying, or indeed carpentry.

          • GM765829

            I think it is quite arrogant to say that one form of worship is better than another and that modern worship blocks out intellectual curiosity seems bizarre.
            I am at university in Oxford and in my college we have a Cathedral. A beautiful building, but I disagree with you that this somehow makes it a better place to go to church. Indeed I don’t know of any undergraduates who regularly attend the cathedral, instead thousands of students go the evangelical churches because they find them more intellectually stimulating, not less. My experience of high church worship is that there is a lot of pomp and ceremony, and unfortunately it is sometimes this that people go for – rather than engaging with the person of Jesus Christ.

            • IRISHBOY

              Thousands? Well, whatever your number I’m happy that you’re happy, though disconcerted that Oxford students find such forms of worship intellectually stimulating. Really? I know relativism rules the roost these days even in Oxford, but it’s like finding Dan Brown analogous to John Milton surely. Now if you’d said you didn’t like worship in your lovely Cathedral and Chapel because the organ was hideously voiced, we’d be on common ground. Still, while you’re in such surroundings, and following the paths where curiosity lead, have a listen to this. Written by the man appointed first Choirmaster at your College.


            • JL

              GM7, can I politely recommend you read the book by Thomas Howard, Evangelical is not Enough? The book is badly titled – it’s not a polemic against evangelicalism at all, and in fact speaks very highly of it – but it does give a very strong argument in favour of beauty in music and architecture. At the very least, you’ll understand the High Church/Catholic position better.

    • JL

      Music carries meaning far beyond its lyrics. Gregorian chant and other types of traditional church music are Christ-centred in their very notes and rhythm. Guitar music isn’t, and adding a few Christian-ese lyrics doesn’t change that. Form matters as much as content.

      Christ wasn’t relevant in the way we understand the word; nor did he seek to be. And to conflate ‘irrelevant’ with ‘bad’ shows just how dominant is the marketing mindset. Relevance is not the aim; truth is.


    Just give me minute to get my guitar tuned . . . . . .

    • terence patrick hewett

      one, two three: Kumbaya my Lord Kumbaya

  • sir_graphus

    Spot on.

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