The outgoing Bishop of Durham bid an emotional farewell to the North-East tonight while vowing to continue to champion the region when he becomes Archbishop of Canterbury.
Speaking ahead of a farewell service at Durham Cathedral, the Right Reverend Bishop Justin Welby said what he had most enjoyed about his 15 months in Durham had been the “amazing privilege” of meeting its people and said he would continue to fight for the North-East because it has “such potential”.
“It doesn’t need charity. It needs people to see there’s something really special here,” he said.
The 57-year-old former oil executive will succeed Dr Rowan Williams and become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, and leader of the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion, in a service at St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, next Monday, before being enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21.
He said he was very nervous about taking on the job, saying: “I’m trying not to look too much like a rabbit in the headlights at the minute.”
Bishop Welby accepted the Anglican Church had “significant divisions” over women bishops and homosexuality but said his biggest challenge was to ensure the Church was outward looking, not consumed with its own problems.
“Parishes are doing that already. At the national level we can fall down,” he said.
He revealed one of his favourite moments as Bishop of Durham had been watching Sunderland beat Manchester City at the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day.
Asked his advice for his successor, who could be named this summer, he said: “Enjoy it. Encourage people in prayer and to love God and follow Him and you will receive much more than you give.”
Durham Cathedral was almost full despite the wet and windy January evening for the Bishop’s official farewell.
Addressing the congregation, the father-of-five made light of his short tenure, joking his sermon was very under-prepared – needing “ten more years in the cooking”.
He said God’s people were always in the midst of change but the uncertainty of the future was countered by God’s unfailing love.
He praised the Foundation for Jobs, a youth employment project supported by The Northern Echo of which he has been patron, and, with typical humility, closed by saying the church’s work was a gift of God, not to the credit of any individual.
Peter Barron, editor of The Northern Echo, told the congregation of how Bishop Welby had twice guest edited the paper and presented him framed copies of the front pages of those editions.
The Bishop was a man of great importance who had the common touch and a rare ability to communicate at every level, Mr Barron said, adding he would not be easily replaced.
The Reverend Canon John Dobson said Bishop Welby had captured the imagination of the regional community beyond the church, speaking up for the most disadvantaged; and he would be remembered with great fondness and gratitude.
The Rt Rev Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, said in Bishop Welby people felt they finally had someone in the corridors of power who understood them and there was both immense sadness and immense joy at his departure.
He leaves a legacy of hope and new possibilities, Bishop Bryant added.
The Very Rev Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, said it was a bittersweet occasion but Durham was proud to be sending “our bishop” to Canterbury.
The farewell service included hymns, prayers, Bible readings and a symbolic ceremony in which Bishop Welby passed the staff-like Lightfoot Crozier to Dean Sadgrove as a sign of the Cathedral’s guardianship of spiritualties until the next bishop is appointed, before the Dean then laid it on the Shrine of St Cuthbert, in readiness for the next bishop.