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New Bishop of Durham left oil industry after daughter's death

THE next Bishop of Durham yesterday told how the pain of losing his first-born child led to him turning his back on a career as an oil executive.

Press conference at Durham Cathedral to annouce the new Bishop of Durham The Very Revd Justin Welby
Press conference at Durham Cathedral to annouce the new Bishop of Durham The Very Revd Justin Welby

THE next Bishop of Durham yesterday told how the pain of losing his first-born child led to him turning his back on a career as an oil executive.

Justin Welby, who will become one of the most influential figures in the Church of England, said the death of his baby daughter had strengthened his faith and inspired him to join the clergy.

At his unveiling as Bishop Designate, in the cloisters of Durham Cathedral yesterday, the 55-year-old Old Etonian committed to supporting the campaign to bring the Lindisfarne Gospels “home”, backed by his predecessors.

The father-of-five revealed he brokered multi-billion pound oil deals as group treasurer of Enterprise Oil during the 1980s, before he joined the church.

Dr Welby said the death of Johanna, in a road accident in France in 1983 when she was just seven-months-old, had drawn his family closer to their faith.

“It was a very dark time for my wife Caroline and myself, but in a strange way it actually brought us closer to God,” he said.

After the tragedy, Dr Welby continued in the oil business and by 1987 had moved to the top of the oil finance industry, but chose to resign.

He said: “After five years at Enterprise, it became clear that I would have to focus either on a career or on the Holy Trinity Brompton, where I was working in South Kensington, London.”

From earning huge amounts of money, he and his growing family had to scrape by on the stipend of a junior clergyman.

“It was a family decision and I couldn’t have done this without my wife’s support,” Dr Welby said. “The oil industry was great fun with great people and I occasionally miss it.

“I was well paid, but we’re not high livers. Making decisions in the oil industry is far easier than in the church.”

After three years of training at Durham, between 1989 and 1992 he spent three more years in a busy urban parish in Nuneaton, before becoming Rector of Southam, both in Warwickshire.

Then in 2002, he became a canon of Coventry Cathedral in 2002. In his last 18 months there, Dr Welby was sub-dean of the cathedral before being installed Dean of Liverpool four years ago.

Describing his appointment yesterday as “something of a homecoming”, he said he is looking forward to being part of the continuing renewal of the ministry of the diocese, and becoming a vocal advocate of the North East.

“To become Bishop of Durham is a huge privilege for many reasons,” Dr Welby said. “It is an ancient diocese, going way back before England itself existed. The heritage is extraordinary. Coming here means being part of a remarkable community grounded in history but always moving forwards.

“Because of the heritage and the strength of the area, to be a good bishop here is about as challenging as it gets.

“I know that I have much to learn about the area and its issues.”

The religious leader said his first priority would be to “get around as much as possible and listen as carefully as possible to as many people as possible”.

Dr Welby added: “Being the bishop has many aspects.

“The key one is leading the clergy of the diocese in worship and mission, serving the people who live here, and living out our love for Christ with those around.”

The Dean of Durham, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove said it was hoped that the new bishop would be enthroned around Christmas time.

Page 3 - Family's links to actress Redgrave and Rab Butler >>

Family's links to actress Redgrave and Rab Butler

THE Bishop Designate of Durham Cathedral laughed off suggestions yesterday that acting legend Vanessa Redgrave had come close to being his stepmother.

According to a report which surfaced two-years-ago, letters in the Redgrave family archive revealed that Vanessa, when 23, planned to marry Gavin Welby, Dr Welby’s father. However, Redgrave's parents, Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, allegedly feared that Mr Welby was a "rotten piece of work" and were suspicious of their daughter's assurances that he had agreed to let her pursue her acting career.

Dr Welby laughed: "You cannot always believe what you read in the press. But I do believe my father and Vanessa Redgrave were quite close at one stage. I do remember meeting her when I was young."

The future Bishop of Durham has a fascinating family history, even without the Redgrave factor.

He was born to Gavin Bernard Welby and his wife, Jane Gillian Welby (née Portal). His mother remarried, becoming Lady Williams of Elvel, years after his father's death in 1975.

Dr Welby is also related to former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Rab Butler, later Baron Butler of Saffron Walden.

He was educated at Eton College before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge to read Law and History.

'Bring the Lindisfarne gospels home'

DR Welby yesterday pledged he would use his role as Bishop of Durham to support calls to bring the Lindisfarne Gospels "home" to the North East.

His predecessors Bishops Michael Turnbull and Tom Wright were both outspoken supporters of the campaign to bring the artefacts back to the region, from London’s British Library.

Dr Welby said: "This region, Northumbria, was the cradle of Christianity in Britain and the Gospels are very much part of that, part of this region’s heritage.

"Yes, I believe they should be returned here." The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated Latin manuscript of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the British Library.

The manuscript was produced on Lindisfarne in Northumbria in the late 7th century or early 8th century, and is generally regarded as the finest example of the kingdom's unique style of religious art.

Dr Welby will be the first Bishop of Durham in 800 years or more not to live in Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland.

However, he said: "I am not really concerned that I will not be living there, but I would have been concerned had it no longer been the Diocesan headquarters." Earlier this year the Church Commissioners announced its intention that Auckland Castle should become a "leading public heritage site, bringing tourism and economic regeneration to the North East", following a £15m donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer.

Discussions are now continuing with Durham County Council, the National Trust, the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, the Art Fund and the National Gallery about the broader future for the castle.

Mr Ruffer's contribution will ensure the 17th century portraits of Jacob and his sons by Francisco de Zurbarán remain at Auckland Castle, their historic home since 1756.

 

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