The Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop Justin says he is honoured to follow in the footsteps of many of his predecessors in the role of patron of Church Mission Society.
Archbishop Justin’s well-known love of Africa began on a Church Mission Society short-term placement when he was 18. In the first half of 1974 he taught in Kenya for six months before going to university.
His CMS placement was at Kiburu Secondary School, about 30 miles from Mount Kenya, as part of what was then called the Youth Service Abroad scheme.
It came about through meeting Simon Barrington-Ward, the then principal of Crowther Hall (CMS’s training college) and soon-to-be general secretary of CMS, at a cocktail party, according to Andrew Atherstone, the author of Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury.
“A mission placement was an intriguing choice for a teenager who professed no Christian faith,” Andrew notes. “Yet in Kenya, the Christians he met provoked him to begin to think more deeply about questions of faith.”
There has been a close association between archbishops of Canterbury and CMS from 1828, when William Howley became archbishop. He was the first archbishop to be a ‘vice-patron’, a tradition that continued for close to 140 years; the patron was a member of the royal family. This changed in 1963 when the then archbishop, Michael Ramsey, was invited to be patron.
Several archbishops have had closer ties – Dr Jane Williams, the wife of Archbishop Justin’s predecessor, Rowan, was the daughter of CMS mission partners in India. Ruth Coggan, the daughter of Archbishop Donald (1974–80), was for many years a CMS mission partner in northern Pakistan.
Yet the relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury has not always been quite as warm as it is today.
It was Archbishop John Moore in 1799–1800 who received a number of visits from one William Wilberforce, representing the newly-founded CMS (at first known as the Society for Missions to Africa and the East). His initial response was, shall we say, politically neutral.
He hoped to be able to support the Society when it had become properly established, according to a letter Wilberforce wrote to John Venn of the archbishop’s reaction, “He acquiesced in the hope I expressed, that the Society might go forward, being assured he would look on the proceedings with candour, and that it would give him pleasure to find them such as he could approve.”
The archbishop, to be fair, seems to have been rather warmer towards the new Society than he felt he was able to state, given the low regard in which most of the bishops held the evangelical clergy who started CMS.
In the intervening years, CMS workers planted churches that now form approximately two-thirds of the modern Anglican Communion.
Today, in its mission to raise up people to share Jesus and change lives, CMS shares Archbishop Justin’s focus on the vital significance of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the final lines of his inaugural sermon at Canterbury cathedral might have been written as a mission statement for CMS.
“We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed.”