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Great opportunities for Church in time of spiritual hunger, says Archbishop elect

The man set to lead the Church of England says he is "utterly optimistic about the future of the Church" ...

The man set to lead the Church of England says he is "utterly optimistic about the future of the Church".

The nomination of the Rt Rev Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, confirmed today by The Queen, has been well received in many quarters across the Church.

Bishop Welby, 56, will be enthroned as Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March next year. He succeeds Dr Rowan Williams who retires at the end of December after 10 years as Archbishop.

At today's press conference at Lambeth Palace, Bishop Welby called his nomination to the post "both astonishing and exciting" and "something I never expected".

He said: "It is exciting because we are at one of those rare points where the tide of events is turning, and the Church nationally, including the Church of England, has great opportunities to match its very great but often hidden strengths.

"I feel a massive sense of privilege at being one of those responsible for the leadership of the Church in a time of spiritual hunger, when our network of parishes and churches and schools and above all people means that we are facing the toughest issues in the toughest place."

He paid tribute to Dr Williams, who he believed would be recognised as "one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury", saying "the Church worldwide owes him a great debt, more than it knows".

His outlook on the Church's future is unapologetically positive: "I am utterly optimistic about the future of the Church. We will certainly get things wrong, but the grace of God is far greater than our biggest failures. We will also certainly get much right and do so already."

His statement at today's press conference underlined his strong commitment to the ordination of women as Bishops, while stressing his belief that the Church should be "a place where we can disagree in love, respecting each other deeply as those who belong to Christ".

The latter theme was repeated in his comments on sexuality issues. He supported the state's right to "rights and status of people co-habiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships" but backed the House of Bishops' statement in answer to the government's consultation on same sex marriage.

"We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the Church," he said, adding "I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us".

He comes to the role with a strong background in business and the oil industry before he was ordained. A lay leader at Holy Trinity Brompton, he sensed the all to ordination in 1989 and went on to take a theology degree at St John's College, Durham, focusing on ethics and was strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic approach to Christian social teaching.

Over the last 20 years he has combined parish community work with ministry in areas of conflict around the world. He spent 15 years at churches in the Coventry diocese and in 2002 was made a Canon of Coventry Cathedral, where he ran the reconciliation work based there, working particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

He became Dean of Liverpool in 2007, working with asylum seekers and local church partnerships, before being made Bishop of Durham in June 2011.

Photo: Rt Rev Justin Welby and his wife Caroline outside Lambeth Palace

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