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09 November 2012

Justin Welby announced as new Archbishop of Canterbury

Justin Welby, the current Bishop of Durham, has been announced by the Prime Minister as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, taking over from Rowan Williams when he leaves in January 2013 to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. The official announcement followed several days of mounting speculation that he had been offered and accepted the post. Rumours began to spread earlier in the week after a flurry of bets were placed on him for the role.

It marks the summit of a remarkable rise for the former oil trader who was consecrated as Bishop of Durham last year and only ordained as a priest in 1993. Prior to his current role in Durham he was Dean of Liverpool Cathedral for four years, and before that led work on reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral and the International Centre for Reconciliation.

Justin Welby worked in the oil industry for eleven years until deciding to train as a vicar in the later 1980s. In his current role as the fourth most senior bishop in the Church of England, Welby sits in the House of Lords and is also a member of the joint parliamentary committee on banking standards. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he is married and has had six children but suffered personal tragedy when his eldest daughter died aged seven months in 1983.

Welcoming the appointment, Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance said: "This is a huge step forward for the church and we hope that in the coming years under Justin Welby's leadership the Church of England will continue to play a vital role in the life of the nation. We are confident he will bring unity to the church so that it can speak with one voice.

"We'll be praying for him, and we ask all of the church to pray for him as he prepares to take over in the new year. Justin Welby brings a rich background to this role, and in leading the church will draw on his business experience as well as time in a wide variety of congregations across the country. It's a hugely significant time for the Church of England, and the country as a whole, and we pray that Justin Welby will be a shepherd to the nation, a voice for the voiceless and a prophet to those in power."

The announcement follows months of speculation and secretive meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) who recommended his appointment which was then approved by the Prime Minister and confirmed by the Queen. The six month process included for the first time public adverts and the opportunity for members of the public to make submissions of their views to the CNC. As well as leading the Church of England, Justin Welby will take over as the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

He is known to favour women becoming bishops, an issue that will likely be resolved at General Synod later in November, and has made clear his opposition to government plans to redefine marriage. His experience in reconciliation and knowledge of the majority world, having worked in Nigeria, could prove crucial to improving international church relations. A former colleague told the BBC of his diplomatic skills: "One of his main strengths is to find the way forward in negotiations… a solution that works for all sides. He is very good at seeing other points of view".

Speaking last year to Holy Trinity Brompton in London, where he was baptised as an adult, Justin Welby said: "If we preach the Gospel, if we make it straightforward and simple, make it easy for people to find Christ, don't put barriers in the way, churches will grow. And the point about growing churches is that as people are converted and are transformed by the grace of God, that grace overflows into the world around them, and will transform the world around us. And, my goodness, we need it."

Earlier in this year in an interview with the Guardian, Welby said in relation to the Libor banking scandal he is currently investigating: "When one group corners a source of human flourishing, it is deeply wicked. It applies to the City, to commodities trades, and to churches who say only this way is right. The City is unspeakably powerful. The longer I go on, the more I am aware of the power of finance."