New Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby Inherits a Divided Anglican Communion

The Right Rev. Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. RNS photo courtesy Durham diocese.

CANTERBURY, England -- Bishop Justin Welby, a former oil executive who's emerged as a critic of corporate excess, was named Friday (Nov. 9) as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the Church of England and leader of the worldwide 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

A statement from British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the appointment after two days of speculation. Welby, 56, succeeds Archbishop Rowan Williams, who will return to academia at Cambridge University next year.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Welby said he is "utterly optimistic" about the future of the Church of England.

He said that the question of gay marriage in his new global flock was a complicated issue "and not one to be handled today, off the cuff."

But he offered a definite olive branch to the gay community despite reaffirming his opposition to same-sex marriage. Welby pledged to re-examine his own thinking on homosexuality while speaking out against exclusion and homophobia.

"I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully," he said.

In the United States, where the Episcopal Church is the official American branch of Anglicanism, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori signaled that she's ready to work with Welby, acknowledging that "his gifts of reconciliation and discernment will be abundantly tested."

Opening Doors and Liberating Churches From ‘Sacred Spaces’

Paris chapel, Justin Black / Shutterstock.com

Paris chapel, Justin Black / Shutterstock.com

Although church conventions tend to get attention for decisions on sexuality and gender, I am more intrigued by a movement among Episcopalians to sell their national headquarters building in New York City.

Whether the shrinking national staff would leave "815" (815 Second Avenue) or remain as tenants isn't clear. Nor is it clear where they would go next if they left. Suggestions range from a large cathedral property (New York or Washington, D.C.) to a middle-of-the-country site. (Presbyterians chose Louisville, Ky., when they made a similar decision in the late 1980s.)

As a cost-cutting measure, a building sale strikes me as unpromising. Nor am I persuaded by anti-Gotham arguments. Having a church center here isn't a "Babylonian captivity" or the last relic of an "imperial dream," as critics put it.