Welby's early career was in the oil industry. In 1989, he studied for ordination at St John's College, Durham. After several parochial appointments he became the Dean of Liverpool in 2007 and the Bishop of Durham in 2011.
Welby's theology is reported as representing the evangelical tradition within Anglicanism. Having worked in business before his ordination, some of his publications explore the relationship between finance and religion and, as a member of the House of Lords, he sits on the panel of the 2012 Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.
Justin Portal Welby was born in London, England, on 6 January 1956, almost exactly nine months after the marriage of his mother Jane Gillian Portal (born 1929) to Gavin Bramhall James Welby (1910–1977). Jane had served as a personal secretary to Sir Winston Churchill from December 1949 until her marriage to Gavin Welby in April 1955, very soon after she had a short relationship with the private secretary to Churchill, Sir Anthony Montague Browne (1923–2013).
Gavin Welby, born Bernard Gavin Weiler in Ruislip, West London, was the son of Bernard Weiler, a German-Jewish immigrant and importer of luxury items who changed the family name to Welby shortly after the First World War broke out. Welby describes his early childhood as "messy": Gavin and Jane Welby were both alcoholics. They divorced in 1959, when he was three years old, and he was placed in Gavin Welby's custody. In 1960 Gavin Welby was engaged to the actress Vanessa Redgrave, who called the engagement off after her mother Lady Redgrave wrote to Vanessa's father, Sir Michael Redgrave, that Gavin Welby was "a real horror ... a pretty rotten piece of work". Gavin Welby died in 1977 of alcohol-related causes.
Welby's mother stopped drinking in 1968, and in 1975 married Charles Williams, a business executive and first-class cricketer who was made a life peer in 1985. Williams was the nephew of Elizabeth Laura Gurney, a member of the Gurney family of Norwich who were prominent Quakers and social reformers. Welby describes his stepfather as being supportive of him.
Paternity testing in 2016 showed that Welby's biological father was not Gavin Welby but Anthony Montague Browne. Welby said he was not disturbed by this discovery but did admit that it had come as "a complete surprise", adding: "I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes."
Welby's mother Jane Portal was the daughter of Iris Butler (1905–2002), a journalist and historian whose brother R. A. "Rab" Butler, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, was a Conservative politician who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. Their father was Sir Montagu Butler, Governor of the Central Provinces of British India and Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Sir Montagu Butler was the grandson of George Butler, headmaster of Harrow School and Dean of Peterborough; the nephew of educator George Butler (husband of social reformer Josephine Butler) and Henry Montagu Butler, headmaster of Harrow School, Dean of Gloucester and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge; and the grand-nephew of John Colenso, the first Bishop of Natal.
Jane Portal's father was Gervas Portal, a half-brother of the World War II Chief of the Air Staff, Charles Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford. Gervas Portal's mother Rose Leslie Portal née Napier was the granddaughter of General Sir William Napier and his wife Caroline Amelia Fox. General Napier and his brothers, Generals Sir Charles James Napier and Sir George Thomas Napier (respectively Commanders-in-Chief of the British Armies in India and in the Cape Colony), were sons of George Napier (a sixth-generation descendant, via the Lords Napier, of John Napier, the inventor of logarithms) and his second wife Lady Sarah Lennox. Caroline Amelia Fox was the daughter of General Henry Edward Fox, younger brother of prominent Whig politician Charles James Fox; they were the sons of politician Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland and his wife Lady Caroline Lennox. Lady Caroline Lennox and Lady Sarah Lennox were two of the five famous Lennox sisters, daughters of the 2nd Duke of Richmond, son of the 1st Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of King Charles II and his mistress Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth.
Welby was educated at St Peter's School, Seaford; Eton College; and Trinity College, Cambridge, where his great-uncle, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, was then master. He graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and law; as per tradition he was later promoted to a Master of Arts by seniority.
In a 12 July 2013 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Welby related his conversion experience when he was a student in Trinity College. He said that, while he was at Eton, he had “vaguely assumed there was a God. But I didn’t believe. I wasn’t interested at all.” But during the evening of 12 October 1975 in Cambridge, praying with a Christian friend, Welby said that he suddenly felt “a clear sense of something changing, the presence of something that had not been there before in my life. He said to his friend, “Please don’t tell anyone about this.” Welby said that he was desperately embarrassed that this had happened to him.
Welby worked for 11 years in the oil industry, five of them for the French oil company Elf Aquitaine based in Paris. In 1984 he became treasurer of the oil exploration group Enterprise Oil plc in London, where he was mainly concerned with West African and North Sea oil projects. He retired from his executive position in 1989 and said that he sensed a calling from God to be ordained.
During his oil industry career, Welby became a congregation member at the evangelical Anglican church of Holy Trinity in Brompton, London.
In July 2013, following the report of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards Commission, Welby explained that senior bank executives avoided being given information about difficult issues to allow them to "plead ignorance". He also said he would possibly have behaved in the same way and warned against punishing by naming and shaming individual bankers which he compared to the behaviour of a lynch mob.
Welby was at first rejected for ordination by John Hughes, the Bishop of Kensington, who told him: "There is no place for you in the Church of England." Welby was subsequently accepted for ordination, with the support of the Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, Sandy Millar.
From 1989 to 1992, Welby studied theology and trained for the priesthood at Cranmer Hall and St John's College, Durham, where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and Diploma in Ministry (DipMin) in 1992. He was ordained a deacon at Petertide (on 28 June) 1992 and a priest the next Petertide (27 June 1993), both times by Simon Barrington-Ward, Bishop of Coventry, at Coventry Cathedral. He then became a curate at Chilvers Coton and St Mary the Virgin, Astley (Nuneaton) from 1992 to 1995. He then became rector of St James' Church, Southam, and later vicar of St Michael and All Angels, Ufton, Diocese of Coventry, from 1995 to 2002.
In 2002, Welby was appointed a canon residentiary of Coventry Cathedral and the co-director for international ministry at the International Centre for Reconciliation. In 2005, he was appointed sub-dean and Canon for Reconciliation Ministry.
Welby was appointed Dean of Liverpool in December 2007 and was installed there on 8 December 2007.
Welby has written widely on ethics and on finance, featuring in books such as Managing the Church?: Order and Organisation in a Secular Age and Explorations in Financial Ethics. Welby's dissertation, an exploration into whether companies can sin, marks his point that the structure of a system can "make it easier to make the right choice or the wrong choice." His dissertation led to the publication of a booklet entitled Can Companies Sin?: "Whether", "How" and "Who" in Company Accountability, which was published by Grove Books in 1992. He has said that the Benedictine and Franciscan orders in the Anglican churches, along with Catholic social teaching, have influenced his spiritual formation.
Interviewed by the BBC in 2011, Welby said that to be appointed Bishop of Durham was both challenging and a huge privilege: "I was astonished to be offered the role. It is a passionate desire to see a church that is vigorously full of spiritual life, serving Jesus Christ and serving those around it." His election was confirmed (i.e. he legally became the Bishop of Durham) at York Minster on 29 September 2011 and he left Liverpool Cathedral on 2 October. He was consecrated as a bishop at York Minster on 28 October 2011 and was enthroned as Bishop of Durham in Durham Cathedral on 26 November 2011. He was introduced to the House of Lords on 12 January 2012, where he sits on the Lords Spiritual bench. He gave his maiden speech on 16 May 2012. He was asked to join the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in 2012.
Welby emerged as a candidate to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury; on 6 November 2012, the bookmakers Betvictor, Ladbrokes and William Hill suspended betting on his being appointed. On 9 November 2012, Welby's appointment to the position was announced. In January 2013, Welby said that he had regarded it as "a joke" and "perfectly absurd" for him to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, because he had only been a bishop for a short time. His confirmation of election ceremony to the See of Canterbury took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 4 February 2013 (by this, he legally became Archbishop of Canterbury); on the following day it was announced that Welby would be appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, as all archbishops are; the order for his appointment was made on 12 February and he swore the oath on 13 March.
Welby was enthroned as the Archbishop of Canterbury at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013, which in the calendar of the Anglican churches is an observance of Thomas Cranmer.
Welby's schedule included an official visit to the Vatican on 14 June 2013, with visits to senior Curial officials, including Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, an official audience with Pope Francis and prayer at the tombs of Saint Peter and Pope John Paul II.
In a 12 July 2013 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Welby addressed questions about his religion. His answers included the following:Asked whether he can speak "in tongues", Welby answered, "Oh yes, it’s just a routine part of spiritual discipline — you choose to speak and you speak a language that you don’t know. It just comes."
Asked whether it is necessary "for a true Christian to have had a personal conversion experience", Welby answered, "Absolutely not. There is an incredible range of ways in which the Spirit works. It doesn’t matter how you get there. It really does quite matter where you are."
Asked about "his strange and lonely youth", Welby said that "at the time, it felt horrible. Now it feels hugely valuable. God doesn’t waste stuff." The interviewer asked Welby whether his family history had "wounded" him. After "a very long" pause, Welby answered, "I assume that I am, but I also assume that the grace of God is extraordinarily powerful in the healing of one’s wounds."
Asked whether he knows Jesus, Welby answered, "Yes. I do. He's both someone one knows and someone one scarcely knows at all, an utterly intimate friend and yet with indescribable majesty."
Regarding his religious practices, Welby called himself "a spiritual magpie". The interviewer commented about Welby, "as well as speaking in tongues, he adores the sacrament of the Eucharist. He also says the morning and evening office, Book of Common Prayer version, in the chapel of the palace, every day. For Welby, 'the routine of regular prayer is immensely important in overcoming the ups and downs of human moods.' For his spiritual discipline, Welby uses Catholic models – the contemplation and stability of Benedictines and the rigorous self-examination of St Ignatius. He also has a spiritual director, Fr Nicolas Buttet, a Roman Catholic priest.
The interviewer said that the church "is good at talking, but not at actually doing things to improve the social order." Welby retorted, "Rubbish! It is one of the most powerful forces of social cohesion. Did you know that each month all the Churches – roughly half of the numbers being Anglican – contribute 23 million hours of voluntary work, outside what they do in church? And it's growing. There are now between 1,200 and 2,000 food banks in which the Church is involved. Ten years ago, there were none. There are vicars living in every impoverished area in the country. This springs out of genuine spirituality. We’re not just Rotary with a pointy roof."
Welby apologised unreservedly after allegations that barrister and evangelical Christian John Smyth beat boys in the late 1970s, mainly pupils at Winchester College, until their wounds bleed and left permanent scars. Smyth then headed the Christian charity, the Iwerne Trust. These allegations were suppressed for decades, although Smyth was asked to leave the UK.
In July 2014, Welby acknowledged that there was a problem with young Muslim youths travelling to the Syrian Civil War and elsewhere to wage jihad but the numbers were “extraordinarily small”, and so he scoffed at concerns over the potential for trouble as "hysterical... I think we’re in danger of slipping into a very fearful culture". In 2015, he offered his support for British air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Syria. Welby believes that the problem of Islamic extremism is far deeper than combating Islamic jihadists such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda; and that the Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia need to be challenged as their "own promotion of a particular brand of Islamic theology has provided a source from which ISIL have drawn a false legitimization." In November 2016 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Welby stated that claiming that the actions of ISIS are "nothing to do with Islam" was damaging efforts to combat extremism. Welby stipulated that it was essential to understand the religious motivation behind extremism in order to understand it and also criticized the argument that claims that "Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity."
Welby disagrees with restrictions on child refugees being admitted to the UK. Welby fears children are now vulnerable to exploitation and even death. Welby stated:
Welby hoped the government would reconsider its decision to stop letting child refugees in. He was dismayed that only 350 children were brought in despite about 3,000 being expected.
Welby has been a strong supporter of Anglican consecration of women as bishops. In November 2013, Welby stated he aimed to ordain women as bishops while allowing space for those who disagree.
In February 2014, Welby called on Anglicans to avoid fear, prejudice and suspicion and to grasp "cultural change in the life of the church":
Welby would like discipline applied over appointments to prevent opponents of women as bishops feeling alienated. Welby hopes to avoid a zero sum game where people feel gain for one side inevitably means loss for the other, he sees need for caution, co-operation and unity.
Slightly revised legislation to allow women to be ordained Bishops in the Church of England was agreed in July 2014 and became law in November 2014.
Welby feels rises in energy prices in the UK appear "inexplicable". He also feels that energy companies have a responsibility towards customers and should take account of this rather than only maximising their own opportunities.
Welby is concerned about Fuel poverty which he feels is serious as energy costs have risen while incomes remain static or decline.
Referring to poverty in the UK in March 2013, Welby criticised UK government changes which cap benefits below inflation.
In a speech at Christmas 2013 Welby said:
In a speech at Easter 2013 Welby said:
Referring to poverty in the UK and generally Welby said that "we should all share concern for the poor and the marginalised, should work to build communities where people act responsibly towards one another, whether we are rich or poor we all have the same dignity. William Beveridge, R. H. Tawney and William Temple played a significant part in establishing the post-war welfare state in the United Kingdom and were committed Christians. We do not have the luxury of saying, 'Something must be done' without doing anything ourselves."
Welby has said that justice of the powerful is not justice at all and judges should decide issues based on truth and the common good rather than class and money. Welby quoted Nelson Mandela that "dealing with poverty was a matter of justice rather than charity." Welby felt that speaking out about poverty, fuel bills, financial insecurity affecting families and Credit unions is part of the Christian duty to love one's neighbour.
Welby hopes that people will resolve to help deal with poverty in their own neighbourhoods. In a BBC television broadcast he said, "I want to suggest this year that each of us makes a resolution to try and change the world a bit where we are."
Welby is concerned about inequality in the UK, he said, “Our economic model is broken. Britain stands at a watershed moment where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising.”
In the run up to the United Kingdom general election, 2017 Justin Welby and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu campaigned over the need to address poverty, education, housing and health. The archbishops stressed the importance of "education for all, of urgent and serious solutions to our housing challenges, the importance of creating communities as well as buildings, and a confident and flourishing health service that gives support to all - especially the vulnerable - not least at the beginning and end of life."
In July 2013, Welby spoke out against the payday lending sites and met with Errol Damelin, chief executive of Wonga. Welby pledged that the Church of England would support credit unions as society needs to "provide an alternative" to the "very, very costly forms of finance" that payday lending services represent. He noted that he did not want to make legal payday lending illegal as this would leave people with no alternative to using criminal loan sharks.
Shortly after this well-publicised intervention in the public debate, it emerged that the Church of England's pension fund had invested money in Accel Partners, a venture capital firm that had invested in Wonga. This led to accusations of hypocrisy and Welby noted that the investment was "very embarrassing" for the church. Welby and the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group were unaware of their investment in Wonga.
Welby also said that the Ethical Investment Advisory Group ought to reconsider rules which allow investment in companies that make up to 25% of their income from gambling, alcohol or high-interest lending.
Welby is concerned about increasing need for food banks which would have been "unthinkable" a decade ago. He called the plight of hungry poor people shocking because he did not expect that in the UK.
Welby disagrees strongly with David Anthony Freud, Baron Freud, currently Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, because Welby believes the UK government cuts to benefits have caused or contributed to the surge in food banks. Welby cites Church of England investigation showing social services referred 35% of Durham residents who use food banks when benefits they were entitled to were not paid. Welby stated,
Before Christmas 2013, Welby urged people to give 10% of what they spend at Christmas to food banks.
Welby condemns modern slavery as a crime against humanity, he joined with Pope Francis and leaders of other faiths, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim, in a joint declaration they would work together aiming to end modern slavery by 2020. Forced labour and prostitution, human trafficking and organ trade were specifically mentioned but all relationships that do not respect human equality, freedom and dignity were condemned.
Welby is concerned that Christians are persecuted in some parts of the world, notably in the Middle East, and fears that some risk their lives going to church. Welby also noted that Christians and other religious minorities were made to suffer terribly and were killed in Iraq, which violates article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People should document human rights violation to enable future prosecutions and to destroy the culture where those responsible expect no adverse consequences. Welby noted that Christians and other minorities face persecution for their faith in many areas worldwide, he cited Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic among others. Welby urged the United Kingdom to open doors to refugees.
In March 2013, Welby stated that "My understanding of sexual ethics has been that, regardless of whether it's gay or straight, sex outside marriage is wrong." He reiterated this belief again later in 2013, further noting that "To abandon the ideal simply because it’s difficult to achieve is ridiculous.”
Welby does not unequivocally affirm the Church of England's historic opposition to same-sex marriage. At his first press conference spoke out strongly against homophobia and stated that he is "always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us." He also said "I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully." Prior to his enthronement he stated that he did not have doubts about the church's policy in opposing same-sex marriages but remained "challenged as to how we respond to it". "You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship", he said, adding that he had "particular friends where I recognise that and am deeply challenged by it".
Welby sees problems with special services of blessing for same-sex couples.
There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word and there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today [a General Synod meeting in London]. We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes. This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.
Welby is married to Caroline (née Eaton) and they have had six children. In 1983, their seven-month-old daughter, Johanna, died in a car crash in France. Referring to the tragedy, Welby explained, "It was a very dark time for my wife Caroline and myself, but in a strange way it actually brought us closer to God." Welby established a special day for bereaved parents at Coventry Cathedral where there is now an annual service commemorating the lives of children who have died.
Welby acknowledges his privileged education and upbringing and has been praised for sending his own children to local state schools.
Welby is a French speaker and Francophile, having lived and worked in France. An announcement about his appointment as Bishop of Durham listed his hobbies as "most things French and sailing".The Reverend Justin Welby (1992–2002)
The Reverend Canon Justin Welby (2002–2007)
The Very Reverend Justin Welby (2007–2011)
The Right Reverend Justin Welby (personal: 2011–2013)
The Right Reverend The Lord Bishop of Durham (office: 2011–2013)
The Most Reverend Justin Welby (personal: 4 – 12 February 2013)
His Grace The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (office: 4 February 2013 – present)
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby (personal: 12 February 2013 – present)