DISCLAIMER: THIS POST ECHOES MY OWN OPINION AND NOT THAT OF ANY CHURCH OR MINISTRY I AM OR HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH.
QUOTES ARE ALL MY RECORD OF JUSTIN WELBY UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED – I CANNOT GUARANTEE 100% ACCURACY.
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
I was privileged to be serving at a rather unique evening service at Trent Vineyard last night. With a similar start point to Baptism set up – getting there for 5pm to set up the auditorium rather than the normal 6:30 (our service is at 7:30pm) – we knew it was going to be big. This was rather simple – we had the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury (Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby) coming to answer some questions and preach to us.
An empty auditorium at Trent Vineyard, with quite a few chairs ready to go! (my photo)
Obviously, this requires some explanation! Trent, whilst friendly with many churches in Nottingham, is not an Anglican Church. We have plenty of former Anglicans, and many leave us to move churches when they leave Nottingham, but we are very definitely a Vineyard Church. And, at the time of writing, the day after Welby came to speak and share, our National Leaders Conference kicked off. The story is simple; John Mumford, National Director of the Vineyard in the UK, invited Justin Welby to our Conference. He couldn’t come, but could do an evening. So he did! This led to one of the biggest setups I’ve ever been involved with at Church – resulting in 1200+ (actual numbers higher) seats out in the main auditorium, the Cafe used for overflow, a linked overflow room, and around 300 seats in the Youth and Training Centre, also with a live video link (but their own worship band). This was a big event!
One of the highlights for me of our evening was the massive sound of 1000+ Christians singing joyful songs of worship to our wonderful God. The packed auditorium and the cafe resounded with people from all over the Vineyard movement, and Nottingham, singing in unity. Bishops, my C of E friends tell me, are meant to be a focus of unity. The worship on Sunday evening demonstrated that fully! I love singing praise, and to be worshipping with so many brothers and sisters representing so many churches was a wonderful thing.
John Mumford welcomed Justin and his wife Caroline to the stage, where they then proceeded to have a very amicable, illuminating and exciting conversation. Mumford took the role of question asker, whilst the Welbys responded, both answering different things. Caroline shared bits and bobs of their ‘road to Canterbury’, including reflecting on God’s calling from her perspective as Justin’s wife. Justin shared some of the struggles that their family had faced, which resonated powerfully with the gathered congregation, and demonstrated a wonderfully pastoral heart evident in both of them. Justin gave a very clear testimony of how he came to know Jesus, and understand what Jesus did for him on the Cross. This, for the incoming Archbishop, was as a result of a student friend sharing the Gospel with him.
Justin and Caroline Welby on the stage at Trent Vineyard, being interviewed by John Mumford
Justin Welby shared some powerful thoughts and ideas with the congregation that evening, musings on calling and leadership. One of the most powerful, for me at least, was his observation that “Christian Leadership is enabling people to allow their imagination to be captured by the Spirit of God“, which I completely agree with. This came out of his reflection that the best way to develop in leadership, Christian or secular, is to become more like Jesus. Welby also dealt with recent history, and his hope for the future, saying that “we are in a time of the greatest opportunity for the Church since 1945… All the idols we have put our trust on have fallen…“. A powerful observation. Welby went on, observing carefully that “When the idols have fallen and the dust settles, all that is left is a story. Our story. The story of an empty cross and an empty tomb“. This is where Welby’s passion for Jesus became most evident.
There was a wonderful echo of the Prologue to John’s Gospel, as Welby stated “In the deepest darkness Jesus is the one who comes to us. And the deeper the darkness the brighter the light“. This deeply true observation struck a chord – coming as it did from a man who lost a young child. It echoed throughout his love for Jesus. And flowed into how he would hope the church be known as “a place of peace so that now the idols have fallen we can show people Jesus“. This theme of peace undergirded a measured and powerfully simple perspective on contemporary culture, “Our society is at war within itself“. The solution, according to our Archbishop designate, is for the Church to respond to a challenge to be “the people of peace“.
And lest we think that this is another example of a limp appeal for peace, Welby grounded what he was saying in the Gospel. His confidence in Jesus – and the constant impression throughout the evening was that Welby knows Jesus personally and profoundly – led him to state that “Jesus death was not an accident. It was planned from the beginning of time“. Harking back to his own moment of decision, Welby observed firmly something crucial for all Christians, “We have to know the Gospel“. Demonstrating humbly again his own role in that, he looked us all in the eye and affirmed, “I’m just an ordinary Christian. But by the grace of God we have a very, very extraordinary saviour“.
Having answered a few questions, including a fascinating exchange regarding the Vineyard in the UK, Welby then shuffled his notes and began a short, powerful sermon. This short address firmed up some of what he had been saying in his responses to questions. Despite preaching in causal clothes, sat in a swivel chair, Welby was engaging and powerful. I thoroughly enjoyed his reflections on a short passage in Luke.
My wife and I came away very encouraged, excited, and thankful to God for his servant Justin. Compared to some writers and speakers who wear the Anglican/Christian badge, Welby proved winsome, faithful, engaging and impressive. A relatively slight presence on stage, his character and tone allowed him to calmly and humbly dominate the evening, but in a way that made it all about Jesus. I’m excited about the future of the Anglican Church in a way that many recent events had blunted. I leave the last word with a friend of mine who I studied Theology with, a young evangelical currently training for ordination, who was also at Trent that evening;
“So Brilliant. And he calls other churches family! God blew me away tonight as He confirmed an awful lot of what He has been revealing to me personally about the future of the church in this country. It will be a fantastic time under Welby’s leadership, a man I happily follow. Scripture is powerful in the hands of a man who is Spirit filled“