Justin Welby biography

Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury / Andrew Atherstone (DLT, 2013)

A group of us at church are meeting to discuss this short biography of the recently installed Archbishop of Canterbury. Welby comes across as a leader with the ability to turn things around, and reconcile people in the most difficult circumstances – from African conflicts to diocesan spats about the sale of paintings. Welby wrote in 2012, “Division, dislike and even hatred are the quickest ways to kill churches. The first to leave is the Spirit of God. Reconciliation and modeling difference without enmity to a world in desperate need of it is both healing spirituality and effective testimony to Christ.”

Ten – or even five – years ago, I would have been antithetical to reading this book, because I was anti-hierarchical and anti-leadership, and because the Anglican Church is, in origin at least, so thoroughly Constantinian. And because I didn’t read biographies. Against my house church days, I’ve come to cautiously accept the value of good leadership in churches – I should blog on this one day. I now attend an Anglican church – again, worthy of a post to explain myself. And my main area of literary interest is currently biography. (Would my old self like this 2013 self? Not sure; he might be very disappointed.)

It is a decent biography for a quickly written one. Yet it feels too banal at times; perhaps this is because Atherstone is writing about the living. Or perhaps it is because Welby’s life has been quite ordinary between the exciting parts. But I think it’s also because it relies heavily on sermons and weekly columns written by Welby, and so despite not being authorised, it comes across very much as a sanitised, public biography. Am I saying Atherstone should have tried to dig up more dirt and highlight antagonism? Well, probably not, but these are some of our expectations of biography. Perhaps he should have at least found a still seething parishoner from the time Welby removed the pews from his parish church in the 1990s and replaced them with chairs.


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