Welby – cleric noted for courage and faith

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An Eton-educated former oil company executive, the Rt Rev Justin Welby has been tipped for some time as a future head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.

The 56-year-old cleric is known for his courage and deeply-held faith, and his experience in business is viewed as bringing the Church of England greater credibility in public debate about ethics in the worlds of finance and the City.

The Rt Rev Welby, who read law and history at Trinity College, Cambridge, began his career in the oil industry based in Paris and London, where he worked on West African – mainly Nigerian – and North Sea projects.

He became a group treasurer in a company called Enterprise Oil, before resigning in 1987 after 11 years in the industry to train for the Anglican priesthood.

“I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling,” he said in an interview.

He was made a deacon in 1992 after training for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall in Durham where he took a degree in theology, serving later as a curate in Nuneaton in the Coventry Diocese.

He was made a rector in Southam in the same diocese in 1995 before being made a canon at Coventry Cathedral in 2002 where he also later became sub dean.

At Coventry Cathedral he became involved in conflict resolution and peace building in war-torn areas around the world, continuing this work after he was made Dean of Liverpool in 2007.

On the evangelical wing of the Church of England, the Rt Rev Welby is known for his sense of humour and self-deprecating manner.

Asked in a Guardian interview in July for his comment after he was tipped as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, he said that he did not want the job: “Let’s be clear, I’m one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England.”

His modest, unassuming manner and decision to opt for clerical black rather than bishop’s purple belie a colourful family background.

His father was a businessman who traded in whisky during the prohibition years in America and then became an executive for a company that survived the alcohol ban by selling communion wine. He was later to move in the same circles as the Kennedy family.

The Rt Rev Welby’s mother was Winston Churchill’s private secretary. He is also related to Rab Butler, the former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister – Sir Montagu Butler was Rab Butler’s father and also the father of the Rt Rev Welby’s grandmother.

The Rt Rev Welby and his wife Caroline have had six children, one of whom – their seven-month-old daughter and first-born, Johanna – died in a car crash in France in 1983.