New leader of world's Anglicans enthroned
Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, was enthroned on Thursday, taking over the leadership of 80 million Anglicans worldwide in a service calling for Christian unity that was enlivened by African dancers.
Welby, a 57-year-old former oil executive, was formally sworn in as spiritual head of the Church of England in front of 2,000 guests at Canterbury Cathedral, including Prime Minister David Cameron and heir to the throne Prince Charles.
The inauguration service in the 12th-century cathedral in southeast England included some unusual touches.
There was Punjabi music, a blessing in French and an organ improvisation section, while west African drummers filled the nave with a thunderous rhythm.
"It's got quite a good reverberation, this cathedral," Welby quipped afterwards.
For the first time in history, a woman installed the 105th archbishop of Canterbury in his diocesan seat.
Taking Welby by the hand, Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury, played an integral role in the service which marks the formal start of Welby's ministry as he takes over from Rowan Williams.
He was also enthroned as Primate of All England on the marble Chair of St Augustine, which dates back to at least 1205.
The service took place just two days after Pope Francis, the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, was inaugurated.
The pontiff sent a message of goodwill to Welby, saying he hoped to meet him soon and uphold the "fraternal" rapport between their Churches.
Entering the cathedral, Welby struck the wooden West Door three times with his pastoral staff, and, in an innovation designed to let him declare publicly his core mission, was questioned by a teenage local worshipper.
"I am sent as archbishop to serve you," Welby said, the chilly breeze from outside blowing round his golden mitre.
"I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and in weakness and fear and much trembling."
Welby took an oath on the delicate Canterbury Gospels, thought to have been written in Italy in the fifth or sixth century.
Gifts from Bethlehem, Canada, Hong Kong, Kenya and the DR Congo were laid on the high altar.
In his sermon, Welby said he wanted to foster closer ties with other Christians and heal splits within the Anglican communion which is deeply divided over the issue of women bishops.
And he warned against the dangers of abandoning Christianity in British public life.
"There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country," he said.
"The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary Christ-liberated courage."
Since taking office in February, Welby has not shied away from taking on the government, saying welfare reforms would harm vulnerable children.
He is not a typical churchman. Married with five children, he rose to the top of the oil industry and gave up a six-figure salary to train as a priest.
The smiling archbishop left the cathedral to spontaneous applause.
In an ecumenical move, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the leader of Catholics in England, read the service's New Testament lesson.
He told AFP it was "exhilarating" that Welby was taking over as head of the Anglicans just as the Argentine former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope.
He said Francis had "a clear sense of affinity with Justin Welby, very strongly pressing the need to proclaim the gospel".
Leaders from various other religions including Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews also attended the service.
Anglican bishops from around the world attended, including a handful of women bishops from the United States.
Solomon Tilewa Johnson, the Anglican primate in west Africa, said Welby could soothe the divisions in the Communion.
"We are hoping that being an executive for years, he knows the dynamics of how to get things moving using the talent of others and we will sail through whatever hurdles might come our way," he told AFP.
"It will be very boring without challenges," he added.
© 2013 AFP