Former oil executive becomes new head of Anglicans

Thu Mar 21, 2013 1:37pm EDT
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By Shadia Nasralla

CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) - The new spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans was enthroned by a female cleric on Thursday, taking the helm at a time when the troubled church risks tearing itself apart over gay marriage and women bishops.

In a colourful ceremony featuring African drummers and dancers, Punjabi music and Anglican hymns, Justin Welby, 57, officially became the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury under the gothic arches of Britain's 900-year-old Canterbury Cathedral.

For the first time in the Christian church's history, the priest who placed him on the diocesan throne in Canterbury - the mother church of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion - was a woman, Archdeacon of Canterbury Sheila Watson.

Another, male, priest then installed him in the chair of St. Augustine, marking his inauguration as Primate of All England and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Welby, who is against gay marriage but favors the ordination of women as bishops, now faces a tough balancing act to keep the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion together.

His voice echoing inside the vast cathedral, Welby told a congregation of 2,000 people including heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron that the church should focus more on combating poverty and protecting nature.

"The utterly absurd is completely reasonable when Jesus is the one who is calling," he said in his sermon.

"Slaves were freed, factory acts passed, and the NHS (public health service) and social care established through Christ-liberated courage. The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with Christ-liberated extraordinary courage."   Continued...

The new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arrives for his enthronement ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral, in Canterbury, southern England March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor