Justin Welby says he has no plans to retire from CofE top job ahead of Lambeth Conference

Some Anglican leaders warn against focusing on ‘peripheral matters’

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby | ANDREW WINNING/REUTERS

Justin Welby said he has no plans to retire early from his position as archbishop of Canterbury days before Anglican bishops gather for the Lambeth Conference which some leaders are boycotting amid ongoing debates over the denomination's stance on human sexuality and marriage. 

As long as he is healthy and "people are happy” with him, Welby told The U.K. Times, he has no plans to leave his post until he reaches the retirement age of 70 in 2026. 

“It’s not about me, it’s what’s best for the church,” Welby added, days before the gathering of more than 650 global Anglican leaders in Canterbury, England. “I will certainly take advice and if my health is good and people are happy that I’m still there, then I’ll still be there."

If Welby remains in office until January 2026, completing about 13 years of service, he will become the longest-serving archbishop of Canterbury in half a century.

Any decision about taking early retirement, he said, “would be arrived at in prayer, thoughtful consultation with others, family, colleagues, friends.”

The Anglican denomination boasts nearly 100 million members worldwide and Lambeth Conference, which is held once every 10 years, is attended by bishops who represent autonomous member churches from 165 countries. This year's conference is taking place after a gap of 14 years, instead of 10 years, due to differences over controversial issues and the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Bishops from Rwanda, Nigeria and Uganda have already decided not to attend in response to Anglican churches in the U.S., Scotland and Wales allowing clergy to officiate same-sex weddings. Separately, six other bishops are refusing to attend the conference because their same-sex spouses have been denied an invitation.

In response to church leaders who are boycotting the conference because they believe organizers are focusing on “peripheral matters" such as climate change, Welby said: “I’m concerned. … We will miss them. We regret very much they won’t be there.”

Welby added that the invitation to attend is still open to all bishops and only one three-hour session will be spent on the topic of human sexuality and ensuing debates on the matter. 

The Communion’s position that same-sex marriage is not permissible is on the agenda this year, alongside calls for reparations for slavery and discussions on climate change, war, migration and persecution, according to Religion Media Center.

The bishops could be asked to vote on Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Conference, which rejected homosexual practice as “incompatible with scripture.”

Last week, draft calls to be made during the conference were published in a new booklet for the bishops.

Some calls will be on contentious subjects, “not with the aim of a dramatic change to the Church’s teaching, but on bringing us into deeper love for one another and understanding how God is calling us to be God’s Church for God’s world,” the archbishop of Canterbury told a virtual press conference last month, according to Church Times.

The call to reaffirm Resolution 1.10 is part of the “Call on Human Dignity,” led by the Primate of the West Indies, Howard Gregory.

“All human beings are made in the image of God. Therefore Anglicans are committed to respect, protect and acknowledge the dignity of all,” it reads. “That has been, however, a gap between rhetoric and reality.”

It continues: “Historical exploitation, deepening poverty, and prejudice continues to threaten human dignity. Amid these threats, and our own divisions and discernment, we call for: (i) an Archbishop’s Commission for Redemptive Action; (ii) the establishment of an Anglican Innovation Fund; and (iii) the reaffirmation of Lambeth 1:10 that upholds marriage as between a man and a woman and requires deeper work to uphold the dignity and witness of LGBTQ Anglicans.”

In a message sent to the bishops ahead of the conference, Welby wrote that his prayer is that they “reflect on the draft Call on Anglican Identity, which states that Anglicans ‘belong to a tradition that seeks faithfulness to God in richly diverse cultures, distinct human experiences, and deep disagreements.’”

That call, he continued, also states: “The Anglican Communion is a gift from God. Governed by Scripture, affirming the ancient creeds, sacramentally centered, and episcopally-led-Anglicans seek to be faithful to God in their agreement and in their disagreements.”

The issues on which the bishops deeply disagree do matter, but they should approach the conference with “an even deeper sense of what unites us: the love of Jesus Christ and His calling to serve God’s world,” he concluded.

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