A couple days after the Roman Catholic Church installed its 266th pope, the Anglican Communion – a global Protestant Christian body based in the United Kingdom – now has a newly inaugurated spiritual head.
The Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, formerly the bishop of Durham, England, was inaugurated as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest position in the 85 million-member Anglican Communion.
The inauguration ceremony, held at the historic Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday, included representatives from across the global body. Those present included high church officials and members of the British royal family.
The Episcopal Church, which is the largest Anglican member church in the United States, had several representatives in attendance including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
"I look forward to joining with other primates of the Anglican Communion for the investiture of the next Archbishop of Canterbury," said Jefferts Schori in a statement.
"It is a particular delight to welcome Justin Welby in this role, as we have come to know him over the last several years, both in The Episcopal Church and among the primates. He enters this role at a time of opportunity and challenge, when many people hope for continued growth and maturation within the Communion."
Bishop David Anderson, CEO of the theologically conservative American Anglican Council, told The Christian Post that it was "too early to tell how Archbishop Welby will handle the pressures of the job."
"Our hope and prayer is that he will boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ," said Anderson, who noted that AAC had a "credentialed media member" present at Canterbury for the enthronement ceremony.
"His stance on divisive issues and his words regarding them are being watched very closely by spiritually conservative Anglicans around the world, who as of yet have no assurance that he will be much different from Rowan Williams' failed stance on the tough issues."
Welby officially became archbishop back in February at a service known as the "Confirmation of Election" held at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Thursday's ceremony, known as "the Enthronement," officially inaugurated his reign.
Welby succeeds Rowan Williams, who retired in December after leading the Anglican Communion through theological controversies regarding homosexuality and female ordination that remained largely unresolved.
Jeff Walton, Anglican Program director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told The Christian Post that Welby was a good choice for the archbishop post.
"Welby's evangelical background and experience with conflict resolution should serve him well in his new role. The new archbishop's business experience could also offer a refreshing change from the more academic background of his predecessor," said Walton.
"Welby should empower Global South churches and seriously address their concerns, unlike his predecessor who often permitted their marginalization. Standing up for persecuted Christians in places like Northern Nigeria where Anglicans face radical Islamists also needs to be made a priority."