Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC
Since becoming the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 Justin Welby has been all action. He has needed to be. From his two immediate predecessors he inherited a church that was in perilous organisational disarray and numerical decline. George Carey’s incompetence compounded by Rowan William’s otherworldliness combined to produce just over twenty years of unsatisfactory leadership for the Church of England. For a Church desperate for a steady and competent hand on the till Welby arrived just in time.
One of his first actions was to cancel the scheduled Lambeth Conference and put it off to a later date. This was a sensible decision and an early sign of his focus on what matters. In doing so he reversed a key part of the 2001 recommendations made by Douglas Hurd in his review of the work and functions of the See of Canterbury.
This had, among other things, recommended the Archbishop should focus more time on the Anglican Communion and leave England to the Archbishop of York. One of the current Archbishop’s more alarming characteristics is that he often seems to show little knowledge of or indeed much interest in the church he leads so it’s quite possible he was not aware of the report at all. In any case it was a damaging recommendation and it was a good sign it was cast aside. Welby wanted to focus on what was pressing domestically and the distraction of the cumbersome global gathering of Anglican Bishops was not at that stage a priority for him. Now, however, the fifteenth Lambeth Conference is only months away and the Archbishop and his team are fully focussed on it. It is a good moment to consider why, if at all, it matters.