November 1, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury

The leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, the Most. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, told reporters at the World Council of Churches that he hopes for global Christian unity, but as a move of the Holy Spirit, and not through human efforts.

“It’s actually the work of the Holy Spirit that brings unity. Unity is a gift of God,” Welby said in response to a question from a Canadian Anglican journalist. “And theologically, both in West and East, we believe that the Church is brought together as the family of God by the Spirit of God. And our job is not to bring unity, but to make the unity that God gives us real; that is the test. How do we do that? By engagement, by relationship, by friendship, by prayer for each other, by worship and above all by serving the Lord Jesus Christ together.”‘A WONDERFUL WORK OF GOD’ -- The Most. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke about what he learned at his first World Council of Churches assembly as he addressed reporters on November 1, 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea. [PHOTO: Mark A. Kellner/AR]

Welby said he expected from the WCC event something “I’ve already had, [which is] a broader vision of the global church. I’m learning a lot from this assembly. It’s been a real learning experience and a wonderful thing for me. God’s church is so extraordinary and miraculous globally and what a wonderful work of God we have in his church, so different and so amazing in so many countries of the world, and I praise God for that.”

Christian unity is a linchpin of the World Council of Churches, whose 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, Welby attended this week. Because of its historic concerns about the ecumenical movement, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not a member of the WCC, but sends observers and correspondents to its General Assemblies every seven years.

Welby is due to travel close to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea this weekend, part of a pilgrimage for peace that many WCC participants are undertaking. A local Korean reporter asked what the churches could do to bring about reconciliation between the two countries.

“This is my first visit to Korea. It is not a moment for me to give lectures on how to deal with the issues you are dealing with,” Welby replied. “As Christians we pray for peace and in that visit to seek more wisdom than I’ve got, which is very little.”

Welby, a former oil industry executive who left business to pursue a ministerial calling more than 20 years ago, took on another “hot button” question with a deft touch. Asked about “where the line was” when a church’s bishops get involved in political issues – Norwegian clerical involvement in environmental questions and the oil industry was cited – Welby said, “Anyone who imagines that you can put Christian faith in a box and say it only applies in that box, and everything else is secular and has nothing to do with faith, is wrong. Christian faith covers every aspect of life.”

He continued, “I’m not commenting on the Norwegian situation; I don’t know it. But when we comment in public, we must comment from a theological view, from an understanding of who God is, of what His priorities are, from the proclamation of the love of Jesus Christ especially for the poor, and my own personal rule is I am happy to talk about issues that are controversial, but not about party politics.”

In light of reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had allegedly spied on activities in the Vatican, including the most recent conclave that elected Pope Francis, I asked Welby whether he had concerns that either the NSA or Britain’s security agency, MI6, was eavesdropping on his office.

“They will have had the most unbelievably boring time if they were,” he replied. “Poor things. I wouldn’t sentence my worst enemy to hear some of the conversations I’ve had, because they’re so tedious.”