New leader of world's Anglicans is enthroned

21st March 2013, Comments 0 comments

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was enthroned on Thursday, taking over the leadership of 80 million Anglicans worldwide in a service enlivened by African dancers and in which a woman archdeacon played a key role.

Welby, a 57-year-old former oil executive, was formally sworn in as 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 service included other unusual touches, with a hymn set to a Punjabi melody and drummers and dancers filled the cathedral with a thunderous rhythm either side of Welby's reading from the gospel.

For the first time in history, a woman enthroned the archbishop. The Venerable 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.

His enthronement took place just two days after the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis, was inaugurated.

The pope sent a message of goodwill to Welby, saying he hoped to meet him soon and uphold the "fraternal" rapport between their Churches.

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.

"The Church transforms society when it takes the risks of renewal in prayer, of reconciliation and of confident declaration of the good news of Jesus Christ," he said.

"There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country."

Welby added: "The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary Christ-liberated courage."

The archbishop left the cathedral to the sound of spontaneous applause as he walked behind the primatial cross of Canterbury.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the leader of Catholics in England, told AFP before the service that it was "exhilarating" that Welby was taking over as head of the Anglicans just as the former Argentine 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.

Since officially becoming archbishop on February 4 in a ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, 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.

Welby went for a run on Thursday morning and tweeted in the build-up to the service: "Out early this morning, Canterbury is beautiful, human scale and history falling out of the walls everywhere. Grateful to be here."

© 2013 AFP

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