Archbishop Justin (Picture By: Keith Blundy)
 Archbishop Justin receives his honorary doctorate at Durham University.

Archbishop Justin receives his honorary doctorate at Durham University.

The archbishop Canterbury our very own Archbishop Justin Welby returned to Durham today to have a Dr of Divinity honorary Degree bestowed upon him as a recognition of his work and as a proud son of Durham.

Pictures from the ceremony and press call are presented here. Bishop Paul was also present as a visitor and housed guest of the university.

The oration for Archbishop Justin

Durham Cathedral, 9th January 2015

Justin Welby has one of the strangest jobs in England. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he is the Church of England’s cat-herder in chief, charged with governing the ungovernable, granted immense responsibilities but almost none of the power that one might expect to accompany them. And yet, after two years in post, it is already clear that he is a remarkable man, who has grasped the responsibilities handed to him with striking seriousness and clarity of purpose – and with a deep sense of calling.

There is a passage in the Bible that describes the calling of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah, praying in the temple, has an overwhelming vision of God. He is convinced of his unworthiness, but God proclaims his forgiveness. And when God then asks who will go as witness, to speak God’s message to God’s people. Isaiah – unworthy but forgiven – responds, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Justin has made a habit of saying, ‘Here am I; send me!’ He was called to become Archbishop when he had only just begun his term as Bishop here in Durham; he had been called to Durham while still immersed in his work as Dean of Liverpool Cathedral. He sought neither call; in each case he was doing good work where he was, and wanted to be allowed to continue – but the unexpected calls came, and he answered.

 Receiving honors

Receiving honors

Years earlier, he had heard a call to the priesthood when he was still a successful treasurer in the oil industry – while doing a job he loved, leading a life he loved, pulling in a salary that it would have been churlish not to love. At his selection interview he was asked what he would do if he was turned down. He said he would take his wife out for a meal to celebrate, he so enjoyed what he was already doing. And yet, he said, he ‘had this overwhelming feeling’ that ordination ‘was the right thing to do – it was a call from God’, even though it meant leaving behind his whole lifestyle, and starting again, as a lowly ordination student, here in Durham, at Cranmer Hall.

The pattern for all these responses was, however, set years before that, when he was an undergraduate. One evening, in conversation with a friend, Justin heard the call to become a Christian. Yet he did not hear it as a demand, but as a gift: ‘I suddenly saw,’ he says, ‘the grace, the freedom, the free giving of God, which meant that to follow him would not be constraining but would be the most ultimately liberating thing I could ever do.’

And that’s the secret of his response to all these calls. Like Isaiah in the temple, he has a passionate sense that any call upon him follows a free gift of forgiveness, of reconciliation. It’s the constant note in his speeches and sermons: he believes that the deepest call upon him is the call to live as someone forgiven and loved by God. As he said in a recent sermon, God ‘calls us to believe, to trust, to take this love for us as the most certain thing in our lives. To become those who … consider it fitting … not to live life for ourselves, for our own glory, our own power… But [to] live our lives for others, sacrificing everything.’

It is from this that his priorities as Archbishop flow. He focuses upon reconciliation – because as recipients of an unmerited gift of reconciliation, Christians are called to be reconcilers. He has no illusions about the difficulty of the task. His work at the International Centre for Reconciliation in Coventry took him into situations of great personal danger, and showed him situations of heart-breaking tragedy. He knows that reconciliation demands hard labour and that it can’t be rushed; he knows that the results are fragile – and yet he remains committed to it, trusting to his reconciling God that it remains possible.

He also focuses upon prayer. Prayer is, as he describes it, the core practice by which Christians pay deep attention to God. Prayer can take Christians out of themselves, centring their attention, their focus, upon the reconciling love of God, and its working in the world. Any reconciliation that his work as Archbishop makes possible will, he says, be grounded in a renewal of prayer.

Finally, he focuses upon witness. The central call in his own life, and, he believes, the central call for all Christians, is to be followers of Jesus, and to show others Jesus’ reconciling love. It is a call to Christlike action – to serve, to forgive, to reconcile. But Christians’ actions are at best a faltering echo of Christ, so they are also called to point away from themselves, to direct others’ attention to the love of God in Jesus as the source from which and into which they are imperfectly living. Justin is passionate about such witness, and about its centrality to the life of the church.

And this is the sense he has made of the strange role he has been given. With whatever means it places within his grasp, Justin Welby, a man who has made a habit of responding when called, is seeking to call those in his church and beyond to live lives of witness, prayer, and reconciliation.

Acting Vice-Chancellor, I present Justin Welby to receive the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa.

Mike Higton
Professor of Theology and Ministry
Department of Theology and Religion

Share to your social accounts


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here