The newly appointed head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans has an unorthodox resume.
Justin Welby will probably be the first ever former oil industry executive to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury - the leader of the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.
The 56-year-old Welby is currently the Bishop of Durham in northeast England, but he became a man of the cloth relatively recently.
The BBC notes, “As an oil executive, Bishop Welby was earning a six-figure salary back in 1987 but gave it up to train to be an Anglican priest. He took a degree in theology at Cranmer Hall in Durham, where he studied from 1989 to 1992.”
His 11-year executive career in fossil fuels included a 1984-87 stretch as group treasurer of Enterprise Oil, which explored and produced North Sea oil and is now a part of Royal Dutch Shell. He also worked in the treasury department for French company Elf Aquitaine, according to the New York Times.
He has attributed his career change to a “sense of God’s calling” (there’s a surprise).
“I went kicking and screaming but I couldn’t escape it,” he said in a recent interview with Money Marketing.
The BBC reported that “the life-changing decision followed a personal tragedy in 1983 with the death of his seven-month-old daughter, Johanna, in a car crash.”
Welby is also a co-director at the International Centre for Reconciliation, a group linked to England’s Coventry Cathedral that promotes reconciliation in areas of conflict, like in Africa. According to the BBC story:
He already had experience of Africa from his oil days, but he was now to witness at first hand some of the horrific results of civil war. On a number of occasions he came close to being killed.
He was able to develop a deep understanding of the nature of conflict, as well as an admiration for the Nigerian people who, he says, retain their faith and energy in the face of terrifying odds - something he says continues to inspire him.
The University of Cambridge educated, father of five (Anglican priests don’t have as many restrictions as their Catholic counterparts - remember Henry VIII), starts his new job in March. I’m not the religious type, but I wish him well.
Photo: Diocese of Durham via Anglican Communion website.