The Corner

There Will Always Be an England, C’td.


The new pope — whose identity is, for at least a couple more hours, unknown — is not the only prominent religious leader who will be formally inaugurated next week. On Thursday, March 21, Dr. Justin Welby will be enthroned as archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral, and the U.K. Telegraph has a piece that describes his interesting family background:

The family tree on his mother’s side boasts an array of civil servants, academics, soldiers and clergymen. Jane Portal had been employed, aged 20, by Sir Winston Churchill as one of his personal secretaries, from 1949 until he stood down as prime minister in April 1955.

Churchill asked Jane to stay on to help him finish his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, but she flew instead to the United States to be married to Gavin Welby.

. . .

[Gavin] had been born Bernard Gavin Weiler in 1910 in Ruislip. His father was a Jewish émigré from Germany in the 1880s and an ostrich feather merchant. In September 1914, seven weeks after Britain declared war on Germany, the family abandoned the surname Weiler in favour of the anglicised Welby. Gavin sailed to New York after his father’s death in 1930, and in later life enjoyed telling stories of how he, Gavin, had run alcohol with his “Italian friends”, the Mafia, as a bootlegger during Prohibition.

Welby’s parents split up after just three years; when the future archbishop of Canterbury was a small boy, his father was briefly engaged . . . to Vanessa Redgrave.

Also in this article is the encouraging indication that, back in the early 1980s, Dr. Welby had no illusions about Communist Eastern Europe:

[Welby and his wife, Caroline,] shared a particular concern for persecuted believers on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and so the Welbys signed up in 1981 with the Eastern European Bible Mission (EEBM) to smuggle bibles and other Christian literature into the Communist bloc. Posing as tourists, they travelled to Romania, then in the iron grip of Nicolae Ceausescu. Their specially converted camper van had secret compartments for the contraband Bibles, hidden under a false floor.

All best wishes to Dr. Welby, and to the fellow in Rome too (again, name TK, one hopes soon!). It’s a tough time for religious leadership, which may be sign that our age stands in special need of it.


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