Who Is The Archbishop Of Canterbury, Justin Welby?

Two days after Prince Philip's death on April 9, 2021, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, honored the late Duke of Edinburgh by leading a memorial service that was attended by a select few people, including Philip's wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II. As quoted by the Daily Mail, Welby talked about how the Duke had no problem with "[taking] the hand he was dealt in life" but also pointed out that he would have likely "been the first to harrumph strongly" at how he was seemingly being over-spiritualized.

While the archbishop's name might not resonate with everyone outside the United Kingdom, his position certainly does. As the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, he is the Church of England's principal leader, having served in this role since 2013. He leads most major services that take place at the Canterbury Cathedral and, in more recent years, was also the person who married Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. In fact, Welby was in the news less than two weeks before Philip's death when he disputed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's claims that he signed their marriage certificate in private three days before the actual royal wedding.

Given his high-ranking position and recent mentions in reports on the British royal family, you may be wondering about the archbishop's background. Here's a closer look at Justin Welby, the career change that led him to become a high-ranking church official, and other notable facts about his personal and professional life.

Justin Welby worked in the oil industry before answering a religious calling

While many religious leaders answer their calling quite early in life, that wasn't the case for Justin Welby, who attended some of England's best schools, including Eton College and the University of Cambridge, and was a promising young executive in the oil industry for the better part of the 1980s.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Andrew Shilston, Welby's former deputy at Enterprise Oil, revealed that the future Archbishop of Canterbury was a "very good" executive with an ability to make "innovative" deals. "Institutions gave loans to property companies for 20-25 years because they could see the security of the properties," he added. "He made the imaginative leap and said: 'We've got an oilfield. That's got value for 20-25 years. That can be our collateral.'"

At that time, Welby was not unlike the average 1980s yuppie, given how he "enjoyed the good things" that came with his position as Enterprise Oil's treasurer and didn't mind having a drink every now and then, as Shilston also recalled. But while his interest in religion was a well-known fact to his coworkers, they were nonetheless shocked when he resigned from his position in 1989 and dedicated the rest of his life to God. According to the Financial Times, Welby's decision to leave the corporate life behind might have been driven by the tragic death of his infant daughter in a car crash.

He advocates for greater mental health and disability awareness in the Church of England

After Welby was ordained, the father of six was named evangelical rector of St. James' Church in the small town of Southam, Warwickshire, impressing his peers with his charisma and work ethic as he moved from strength to strength as a religious leader.

Recent years have seen an increase in open and honest conversations about depression and other mental health issues. This is a topic Justin Welby can relate to, as he stressed in a 2018 appearance on the BBC Ouch podcast. The aforementioned 1983 death of his 7-month-old daughter Johanna made him question his faith at times, and he admitted to dealing with depression at other points in his life. 

In addition, the archbishop's daughter Katharine has been open about her own struggles with clinical depression and how she wasn't always able to speak to her parents about these issues. This has led her and her father to advocate for the Church of England to play a greater role in making people with mental health issues feel accepted.

Welby has pushed for the Church to improve its accommodations for disabled individuals. Another of his daughters, Ellie, has suffered from dyspraxia, which affects coordination, for her entire life, while Katharine's battles with chronic fatigue syndrome have oftentimes made it difficult for her to stand during religious services. "I find it absolutely extraordinary that disability access comes second to heritage," the archbishop lamented. "I really find that bizarre. Well, that's one way of saying we don't care about you, isn't it?"

The archbishop's thoughts on the existence of a higher power

One may assume that a high-ranking church official like Justin Welby unequivocally believes that God exists. However, he admitted in a 2013 interview with former Eton and Cambridge schoolmate Charles Moore for the Telegraph (via UCA News) that he only "vaguely assumed there was a God" during his time studying in Eton. That all changed on the night of October 12, 1975, when he felt the "presence of something that had not been there before in my life" while he was praying with a friend.

In 2014, Welby was asked by BBC Bristol's Lucy Tegg whether he has doubts about God's existence. As quoted by The Guardian, the archbishop responded in the affirmative, revealing that these doubts manifest on a regular basis and suggesting that there are passages in Psalm 88 that hint at such sentiments. He added, however, that one should focus on how God remains "faithful" even when people are not.

On the other hand, Welby stated that he is a firm believer in Jesus Christ's existence. "We can talk about Jesus -– I always do that because most of the other questions I can't answer," he said. "I keep going and call to Jesus to help me, and he picks me up."