Justin Welby

WGL 2021-Justin-Welby
Yui Mok—POOL/AFP via Getty Images
  • Title
    Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Affiliation
    Church of England/Anglican Church

In an interview in April, the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on the past year. The U.K. has suffered a case of “national PTSD,” he remarked; it was quite natural that many who had lost loved ones were angry at God.

It was a typically pragmatic response from Justin Welby, who has served as the spiritual leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion since 2013, and who has pushed the Church and society at large toward change on multiple fronts. In doing so, Welby has embodied a host of contradictions. A former oil executive, Welby is now outspoken on climate change and has encouraged the Church’s investment arm to push major emitters on their climate policies. Though he’s one of Britain’s most high-profile institutional leaders, Welby has hit out at the British government on welfare reform and the implementation of Brexit. And though he’s the head of a church whose roots date back over 1,400 years, he was a pioneer at the outset of the pandemic in encouraging services to be moved online.

Welby’s hasn’t been an easy job. The Church of England has faced declining weekly attendance for years within the U.K. (although the majority of Anglicans are in the global South); it has been beset by a slew of damaging scandals, including allegations of racism within the Church and the trauma inflicted by generations of pedophile priests. Welby, too, has come under criticism for his outspokenness. But even for many outside his titular flock, he remains an inspirational figure. Alongside his modernizing push, it has been his own openness about mental health and grief—he lost a young daughter in 1983—that has particularly resonated in a year of loss.