by Ian Funnell
from Signs of the Times No. 60 - Jan 2016
This unauthorised but well-researched biography of the marvellous Justin Welby is a re-working of an earlier version rushed out soon after his promotion to Canterbury.
The author’s English style is a little prosaic, and if you seek the aphorisms of Oscar Wilde or A.N. Wilson you will look in vain. However, the book is never dull, and in this Atherstone is helped, of course, by the extraordinary life of his subject.
Justin Welby was born into an affluent family, and early photos show him as effortlessly patrician. He was educated at St. Peter’s Prep School in Seaford and Eton without distinguishing himself as a brilliant, or a particularly religious, student. At this time he had to cope with the break-up of his parents’ marriage and his eccentric father’s descent into alcoholism. He spent a gap year in Kenya, where he started to think seriously about Christianity, inspired by the faith of one of his fellow workers. Although his ‘A’ level results were distinctly mediocre, Justin won a place to read law at Trinity College, Cambridge (it would be churlish to point out that the Master was his great uncle, Rab Butler). At Cambridge he soon became a member of CICCU (Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union), embracing evangelical Christianity with fervour and worshipping in the holidays at Holy Trinity, Brompton.
When he left Cambridge, Justin worked for various oil companies, soon rising through the ranks and earning a salary of £100,000 before the age of 30. However, he began to feel God was calling him to ordination, and he was ordained at the age of 36. As in his first career, he had a meteoric rise to the top, being in quick succession, rector of St James’ church, Southam, a canon of Coventry cathedral working in the ministry of reconciliation, Dean of Liverpool Cathedral and Bishop of Durham.
Justin Welby has many admirable qualities, including a humility that at every stage has meant he really would have preferred not to get the next job; a courage that has seen him twice make the last ‘I love you’ phone call to his wife Caroline as death seemed imminent in Nigeria; and a spontaneity with the press that sometimes means he has to retract, as when he promised to compete Wonga out of business, and when he suggested that where a good vicar is in charge the congregation will inevitably grow.