Justin Welby came to Sunderland Minster for his first appointment following the announcement that he is to be the New Archbishop of Canterbury. It was quite a treat for us, and a real boost for the projects 'Sunderland Winter Night Shelter' and 'One for the Basket' Appeals which we were launching at the minster.
Superficially, he looks on paper to be the kind of Archbishop I might have some problems with: Eton educated, oil business financier; 'conservative' evangelical etc etc. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he is going to be a lot more promising than people imagine.
He is a genuinely good man with the ability to listen and to change his mind. He is also very funny. He came up to me at the Minster, shook my hand, and said with a big smile; 'I just want you to know Chris, I'm not leaving because you have arrived in the Diocese!'
In fact, I probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. When some questions were raised about my appointment because I had been arrested on several demonstrations, a call to Justin made it clear that he backed priests who make such a stand out of conviction. I got this great job and permission to continue experimenting with liberation theology with the backing of Bishop Justin and Bishop Mark of Jarrow.
In note of this, I gave Justin a book about the life of Archbishop Romero, another Bishop who was though of as too conservative by radical priests upon his appointment in 1977. He went on to become one of the most inspirational and courageous archbishops ever. He never failed to speak out for the poor and against the human rights abuses he saw all around him in Central America. Archbishop Romero is the example par excellence of those who use their power and influence humbly but decisively to work for the reign of God's love.
In the light of the sort of cuts that this government is imposing on our country, Justin Welby is going to have to face up to the challenge of increasing poverty coupled to an uncaring rich elite. Today in Sunderland, He chose to start off by supporting those who are practically engaged in acts of solidarity with the most vulnerable, whilst saying that reliance on food banks and homelessness should not be acceptable in the UK.
Let us prayerfully support Justin, and not jump to conclusions based on his past. He is capable, likable and prayerful - and I have a feeling he is going to pleasantly surprise many progressive people as well as more traditional churches in the years to come.