Beginning Well: A Reflection on Justin Welby's first press conference at Lambeth Palace
by Andy Walton
When I left the office to head over to Lambeth Palace this morning, I was in good heart. We have a new Archbishop, and by all accounts he is the right choice. How many candidates could gain the ringing endorsement of both Giles Fraser of Inclusive Church and Rod Thomas of Reform? Those who knew him were unanimous in their praise. Even those who didn't - the commentators and agitators of Fleet Street - were effusive in their praise. The Guardian and the Telegraph both acclaimed him.
It was with this cheery heart that I emerged from the tube at Lambeth, but as I strolled towards the oversized front door of the Palace, I became more worried. "Sure…" I thought to myself, "the folk in Coventry, Liverpool and Durham seem to like him, but this is the big time. Will he be able to take the pressure today?" As I arrived and saw the massed ranks of cameras and microphones arranged to greet the latest successor to Augustine of Canterbury, I was concerned. But almost as soon as the press conference began (wonderfully, with a prayer) I was at ease.
He's never dealt with the world's media before, as far as I know. But I had no cause to be alarmed. He handled it with aplomb, jacket removed, black shirt-sleeves rolled up. Standing in front of a garish pink backdrop, the Archbishop-elect read out a pre-prepared statement which dealt with some of the hot potatoes he needed to juggle. He strongly endorsed the campaign to push forward with the legislation which will see women become Bishops, while also signifying his respect for those who disagree. He confirmed his support of the Bishops' statement in opposition to the government's proposals to introduce gay marriage, but crucially, he pledged to listen carefully to those who are in disagreement with that stance. He also spoke warmly about the Incumbent Archbishop, the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of York. He talked about Jesus an awful lot (obvious, you might say, but nonetheless, vital).
Then came the questions, which he handled well. Having firmly said he wouldn't say any more about gay marriage or women bishops, the journalists were surprisingly tame, and didn't try to sneak in any further questions on those topics. But those issues that did come up, from Ignatian spirituality, to the Living Wage campaign were handled with good humour, candour and a sense that he knew his own mind and was comfortable in his own skin.
All in all, a very encouraging morning. As I said when I leaned over to my neighbour, "This guy is good… very good." He'll have tough times ahead, but as he begins the job, he has filled me with confidence that he is the right man for it, and of course, he goes with the prayers of all at Fulcrum.