Confident and humorous, the new Archibishop of Canterbury begins his difficult task

The new Archbishop of Canterbury the Right Reverend Justin Welby Photo: Press Assocation

Justin Welby started his press conference with a prayer and then quickly told a joke.

He came across as confident, humorous and politically deft; at once intellectual and approachable, spiritual and worldly.

His large hoard of grown up children crowded in the back and watched with obvious pride as one of his daughters tweeted:

At times, her father looked as disbelieving as his daughter. He told me that his first reaction had been “Oh No!” when he was told that he had been chosen. “I’m a fairly normal kind of guy,” he told me, adding with a smile: “I’m not ready for this job, but God is…”

In fact, Justin Welby talked about God and Jesus a lot. Proof that however used to working and mixing in the secular world our next Archbishop may be, he is first and foremost a religious leader.

He talked easily with at times with an evangelical lilt, about the “Love of Jesus transforming lives” as some of his more secular listeners looked at their feet.

Most of the assembled journalists wanted to talk about women bishops and gay marriage, but Bishop Welby wouldn’t be drawn further than his statement on either of these issues:

  • On women bishops – he is for – but understanding of those who are against
  • On gay marriage – he is against – but understanding of those who are for

At face value, no change there then, no bold leadership taking the church forward. But I did detect perhaps a change in nuance.

Bishop Welby’s assertion that he would listen “very attentively to the LGBT communities” (his abbreviation) suggested he was more at ease in a modern, secular world than his predecessor. “We must have no truck with any form of homophobia” was another phrase which had more modern passion to it than a must-have, press conference platitude.

I was there when the last Archbishop, Rowan Williams, was introduced, and the press conference then was a much drier affair; his a more academic God perhaps, than the evangelical God Welby worships.

When Bishop Welby entered the room, one church acolyte had applauded shyly. Somehow the occasion seemed to warrant some kind of marking – some kind of welcome; this was after all the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and a moment of history. But none of the die-hard hacks joined in.

But when the diminutive Justin Welby left, there was a ripple of applause from most.

This Eton educated and well rounded figure had won over the crowd with his eclectic general knowledge, theological expertise and spiritual confidence.

He has a wider and more difficult audience to win over, and a divided church to keep together (as our headlines will constantly remind him) but no one who met him this morning could fail to wish him well.

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