Looking Back; the Enthronement of the ABC

Archbishop Justin Welby enthroned in Canterbury

New Archbishop of Canterbury is enthroned

They included the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prime Minister David Cameron.

The event marked the formal start of Mr Welby’spublic ministry as leader of the 77-million strong Anglican Communion as well as head of the Church of England.

The colourful ceremony featured Punjabi music, African dancers and drummers and an organ improvisation.

Diocesan throne

For the first time in history, a female cleric, the Venerable Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury, was given the central role of formally enthroning the archbishop on the diocesan throne in the cathedral – symbolising his appointment as bishop of Canterbury.

The archbishop was then formally enthroned on the 13th century marble chair of St Augustine by the Dean of Canterbury the Very Rev Robert Willis, symbolising his role as head of the Church of England and leader of the global Anglican Communion.

Earlier Mr Welby made a declaration of his loyalty to the Church of England and swore an oath of faithfulness on the Canterbury Gospels, brought to Britain by St Augustine in 597.

Striking the door

The start of the service saw Mr Welby striking the west door of the cathedral three times with his pastoral staff before the doors were opened.

In his sermon, he highlighted the contribution of Christianity to British society through work such as food banks, homeless shelters and education.

“For more than a thousand years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God – by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community,” he said.

With influence but without authority? See Archbishop Welby interviewed by Jon Snow

“Sometimes we have done better, sometimes worse.

“When we do better we make space for our own courage to be liberated, for God to act among us and for human beings to flourish.”


But he warned the congregation that the more the Church heeded “Jesus’ call” the more the Church would suffer – highlighting the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Anglican archbishop burnt at the stake in 1556.

“I look at the Anglican leaders here and remember that in many cases round the world their people are scattered to the four winds or driven underground – by persecution, by storms of all sorts, even by cultural change,” he said.

The congregation included representatives from the major faiths including Islam, Judaism and the Sikh religions. Leaders of the orthodox churches were also present including Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain.

The most senior figures in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales were present including the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

Also present were the Labour leader Ed Miliband, Home Secretary Theresa May, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

Ringing bells

As the service finished, the cathedral bells rang and the archbishop proceeded out of the west door followed by Charles and Camilla. The royal couple spoke to him briefly outside as the congregation remained standing.

Bishop Emanuel Chukuma from Nigeria said afterwards: “It was quite an occasion. He seems to be a simple man and someone who is focused to bring the church together.

“His challenges looking forward is to reconcile the church because it has been wounded by unnecessary doctrines. Climate change is also another challenge as well as poverty and bad governance.”

Canon Charles Robertson from New York said: “The ceremony gives one great hope. Archbishop Welby will reach out to all Christians and people of all faith and the fact that this comes two days after the events in Rome makes one doubly hopeful.”

More from around the web

One very different circumstance of this enthronement was the fact that it was a woman who welcomed the Archbishop into the Cathedral:

“For the first time in history, a female cleric, the Venerable Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury, was given the central role of formally enthroning the archbishop on the diocesan throne in the cathedral – symbolising his appointment as bishop of Canterbury”.

(I noted in the article that there seems to be some confusion about exactly who enacted the task of enthroning the Archbishop, as two successive paragraphs (one of which is noted above) show different people – one of whom was the Dean – performing the ceremony)

Another feature of the ceremonies was the presence of a team of African drummers, whose efforts reminded guests from all over the Anglican Communion that the Anglican Church is alive and active in Provinces all over the world. 

The inter-Faith significance of this recognition of the latest occupant of the Throne of St. Augustine was exemplified in the presence of Faith Leaders from Christian and other religious Traditions – an indication of the new Archbishop’s  intention to work with other Faith Communities in the U.K. and around the world.

Looking back, now from the situation of women bishops having been recognised and accepted by the majority of Anglicans around the world, this particular hurdle – though still contentious in a minority of the Church of England – one realises the fact that Anglican Churches in almost every Province have shed the label of intentional sexism, in order to recognise the value of women in ministry at all levels of the Church.

What remains now, is for the Church of England to find an accommodation with those in the Church who look forward to overcoming the suspicion of a lingering homophobia, that has divided the ‘sola Scriptura’ Provinces of the Communion from those who long for the total equality of all people – regarless of race, social class, culture, gender or sexual-identity.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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5 Responses to Looking Back; the Enthronement of the ABC

  1. Brian Ralph says:

    It seems there are 2 chairs on which he was enthroned. First the Canterbury Diocesan chair then the Augustine chair indicating he is leader of the whole Anglican communion. No confusion.

  2. kiwianglo says:

    Thanks, Brian. I hadn’t even thought of that possibility. Are there indeed 2 thrones in canterbury Catrhedral? Or, perhaps, 2 separate enthronements – 1 as Bishop in Canterbury and 1 as the Archbishop of Canterbury – 2 separate jurisdictions? Doesn’t seem likely, but, who knows? In any event, the local people might prefer to recall his local pastoral role as their bishop.

  3. Brian Ralph says:

    Apparently there are three (from Wikipedia)
    Since an early period, it (St Augustine’s chair) has always had a place in the triple enthronement of an Archbishop of Canterbury. He is seated on the throne in the choir as Diocesan Bishop, in the chapter house as titular abbot, and in St. Augustine’s chair as Primate of All England. This and the Lambeth Conference are the only occasions in which this cathedra is used. The choir throne is used for other occasions in which the archbishop is present.

  4. kiwianglo says:

    Thanks, Brian. I haven’t yet fully utilised the wonder of Wikipedia. Better get on to it!

  5. Brian Ralph says:

    Wikipedia must be read with care. Anyone can make an entry. As a teacher, I would not allow my students to use it as an authoritative resource. There are some examples of complete absurdities made by people intent on mischief and unfortunately an adolescent is not always very discerning. However it is quite useful for researching items of general interest. If the matter is important you should cross reference with some place more authoritative.

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