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'I won't forget you' says Archbishop of Canterbury
“I OWE you a lot and I won't forget you.”
Those were the words of the Most Reverend Justin Portal Welby, outgoing Bishop of Durham, as he was formally confirmed as the new Archbishop of Canterbury today (Monday, February 4).
Speaking to The Northern Echo after a Confirmation of Election service at St Paul's Cathedral in London which blended legal procedure and symbolic ritual, the 57-year-old former oil financier said: “It was an extraordinary service.
“As we came to the middle of it, I was thinking: 'Well, goodbye Durham'; and how sad I was about that - but at the same time welcoming the new challenge.”
Asked what he had learned during his unexpectedly brief time in the North-East, he said: “The resilience of faithful communities and how they have enormous vision.”
He praised Rev Emma Johnson, Associate Minister at Easington and Easington Colliery, east Durham, who read a Bible lesson at today's service, saying she and her team were doing “absolutely stunning work” and were “symbolic of what we can do”.
Finally, asked his message for the North-East, he said, emphatically: “I owe you a lot – and I won't forget you.”
The married father-of-five is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, succeeding Dr Rowan Williams, who stood down in December.
He becomes earthly leader of the Church of England and the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion at a crucial moment, with the Church hurting over women bishops, split over homosexuality and torn between liberal clergy in the West and hardline leaders elsewhere.
His consecration today, to be followed by an enthronement service at Canterbury Cathedral next month (March), was attended by hundreds of clergy and churchgoers from across the globe.
The bright winter sun poured in through the Cathedral's south windows, illuminating white marble, white robes and no few white hairs.
It was 75 minutes of much impenetrable procedure, as highlighted by the Very Rev David Ison who, in his introduction, bid welcome “bemused members of the public from around the world”.
Complete with a proctor and an advocate, it was more a medieval court than a church service.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, presided ¬ somewhat cruel perhaps, given he was most observers' tip for the top job.
As he asked his new boss to remember the vows he had made on becoming a bishop, Dr Sentamu surely must have reflected that it was he who witnessed them, just 14 months ago as the then Dean of Liverpool was consecrated Bishop of Durham in York Minster.
Dr Sentamu's 15-minute sermon was uncharacteristically low-key. No cutting up his clerical collar, few jokes. Just a warning to work with others: “He who travels fast, travels alone,” he said; and encouragement to “fight the good fight”.
Tradition ruled over innovation: the hymns were from bygone centuries, there were numerous references to the Queen and the choir sung in Latin.
Hence, it was refreshing to hear Rev Johnson's youthful female voice - slightly reminiscent, as it was, of North-East comic Sarah Millican.
Having sworn the oath of allegiance to the Queen and made a formal written declaration of his assent to his election as Archbishop, to the resounding of Charles Wesley's 'O for a thousand tongues to sing', the new primate slowly processed towards the Cathedral's exit, blessing people with the sign of the cross as he went.
The huge doors swung open as if at his command and, as the photographers' flashbulbs flickered, he greeted the world outside.
“It's an overwhelming feeling,” he said.
“I was sitting there, looking, reflecting, praying and thinking: 'Well, you trust the grace of God'.”