Welby abandoned his faith while at university and says he was a nominal Christian as a young man
De Montfort University’s reputation for encouraging students and staff to challenge convention was further reinforced when one of the world’s leading faith leaders, The Archbishop of Canterbury The Most Rev’d and Rt Hon Justin Welby, was welcomed on to campus.
The Archbishop, who is a faith leader for millions of Anglicans in the UK, and an Anglican communion of millions more around the globe, visited DMU as part of a three day tour of Leicester’s Diocese and spoke frankly about a life which had been far from privileged – watch the full video here.
During his “Big Conversation”, with an audience of all faiths and none at The Venue@DMU, The Most Revd Welby talked about his unconventional childhood when he was brought up by a mother and father who were alcoholic, “so life at home could be a little unpredictable to put it mildly” and pulled no punches when describing the miserable time he spent when sent away to a private school.
The Archbishop, who spent ten years working in finance within the oil industry, was also candid about his journey into faith.
He said that he ‘avoided’ Christians at university as he feared they were ‘geeky, boring and sad’. And he himself started off as a ‘Submarine Christian’ who ‘surfaced once a year’ to attend a ceremony at Christmas.
His faith was also severely tested at times and the audience was visibly shocked when he told how his wife Caroline was involved in a car crash in the early 1980’s while driving back home with their young daughter Joanna. Joanna’s cot flew through the windscreen. She died five days later. The Archbishop described the darkness that descended on him and his wife for a great period of time and how prayer and the love of God had helped them.
He said: “It shatters all aspects of your life. All your plans seem irrelevant. What is the point of planning a career when this has happened to you. The extraordinary thing is that, in the darkness, God is there.”
The Archbishop’s talk was also injected with bright moments of humour, for example when revealing how his mother placed a bet on him being the next Archbishop of Canterbury, while he was still serving the diocese of Durham.
He said: “My mother went into a local bookies and said ‘I want to put £10 on the Bishop of Durham being the next Archbishop of Canterbury’. There was a long pause and then they said ‘Is that the 3.30 at Worcester?’ The story is she got 130 to 1 – and never gave me a penny!’
The Most Rev’d Welby added: “The experience (as Archbishop) has been a dazzling, overwhelming experience of the global Christian family. We have been all over the world and you see the Anglican community in 2,000-plus cultures held together by their belief in Jesus Christ.”
The Most Rev’d Welby then opened the talk up to the floor and he commented on more than one occasion about how good the questions were that came from the DMU audience.
All questions to fuel a ‘Big Conversation’ about faith, or no faith, were covered, including ‘why does God allow suffering?’, ‘What does it mean when Christian’s say they have a relationship with Jesus?’, ‘Are you worried about the declining population of the Church’ ‘Why should we follow a religion based on books written in another time and place’.
You can see these questions being asked and the profound answers delivered by the Archbishop on our Facebook Live coverage of the event.
The Archbishop ended his visit to DMU with a brief tour of the new Chaplaincy in DMU’s Portland Building which represents all faiths on the campus.