BISHOP Justin Welby said farewell to his Durham flock at the city’s cathedral last night before taking up his new role as Archbishop of Canterbury.
And he spoke of his shock at some of the levels of poverty he had found in the region during his 14 months as Bishop of Durham.
He also announced that one of his priorities in his new job would be to try to solve the thorny issue of “the consecration of women bishops”. Speaking at a farewell service at Durham Cathedral for his time spent in the city, he said: “Everyone is aware that there are significant divisions within the Anglican communion, over issues such as how we go about consecrating women bishops and issues of sexuality, and finding the way forward in those issues is a massive challenge.
“But I think the biggest challenge, and the church has been doing this for a long time so I don’t think it’s me who is going to solve this, is to ensure the church at a national and local level is an outward-looking body.”
The former oil executive, speaking at his last public appearance as Bishop of Durham before taking up his new role, said that leaving would be particularly painful.
He said: “It’s not a service I have been looking forward to for one single second. Goodbyes are never easy and this is going to be a particularly painful one. It’s the different people I have met, the extraordinary variety of people across this area.
“In a sense what it’s taught me is to make more and more real what I learned in Liverpool, that people can flourish and celebrate even in really difficult circumstances with the right character and spirit.”
Bishop Welby said one of his happiest memories of his time in the North East was “seeing Sunderland beating Manchester City on Boxing Day at the Stadium of Light”.
He added: “It was a wonderful atmosphere and a great game of football.”
But he said he had been shocked by the extent of poverty in some parts of the North East.
“There are children in this area who are not getting enough to eat and this I found shocking. The levels of extreme deprivation may not be as severe as they were in the 1930s but it is still an extremely worrying situation, and one which the churches, not just the Church of England but all churches, must try to help.
“But food parcel schemes, debt counselling, and other practical assistance represent the resilience which makes this area so special. This region does not need charity, but it needs people to realise how special it is and to provide practical support.”
After finishing his role at Durham, Bishop Welby is set to legally take office as Archbishop of Canterbury at a service on February 4 at St Paul’s Cathedral.