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UK News

'Simpler, humbler, bolder': Justin Welby tells Premier his vision for Church in 2021

by Marcus Jones

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been outlining his hopes for how the Church emerges from the pandemic.

Justin Welby gave three words for Christians to focus on: "Simpler, humbler, bolder."

He's been speaking to Premier as the UK nears a year since the outbreak of Coronavirus, a year in which the Church shut its buildings for public gatherings, moved online but also expanded its work in communities through things like foodbanks.

"I think we've gained a sense that quite simple, but bold and humble service really introduces people to Christ in a powerful way," he said.

"I think of stories of Christian leaders who have wept with people, they've given food, they've communicated the gospel by praying with people. And that is so Jesus shaped."

Welby says he's been inspired by clergy across the country who've gone above and beyond during the pandemic, especially those in Burnley who's service to their community featured on the BBC.

Some critics of the Church suggest social action should be separated from evangelism - an idea the archbishop describes as "claptrap".

He says doing good deeds should never come with conditions but we shouldn't be afraid to share our faith.

"We start with grace. Isn't grace the most beautiful word in the English language? Everything we do, we do in grace. 

"So we never say to people, you can use this foodbank if you do an Alpha course. No! We say to people, we love you, here is this, and then we pray like anything that as we love people with the genuine, transparent, truthful love of God in Jesus Christ, that people will be prompted by the Holy Spirit. That's our responsibility. 

"I've been visiting people in hospitals, and I pray with people. I have no idea what God's doing in their hearts. But I trust Him.

"God's job is to convert. It's not our job. It's above your paygrade. So never separate them. Be full of grace, and kindness and love. And never be conditional."

For Welby, the digitalisation of the Church is one area which should stay after the pandemic.

"We've gained internet skills and technological skills. Let's keep it up. Let's reach out to people. 

"The Dean of Canterbury who runs Canterbury Cathedral started doing Morning Prayer in his garden every day online. He would get 20 when he does it in the chapel on a good day. Online he had 40,000 people. His cats and other animals kept on making uninvited guest appearances. And it's just hilarious. But he put into it just a few moments of sharing about the reading for the day. It was very simple, very straightforward. But we've learned how to use technology to communicate. And he is superb."

Justin Welby is expected to take a short sabbatical this summer. With national newspapers suggesting cuts to the number of priests will be necessary for the years ahead, and the Lambeth Conference - an event some have suggested will be key to the Anglican Communion's future - on the horizon, the archbishop has plenty on his plate.

Asked how believers can be praying for him, he said: "I have a stock answer which is always true, which is wisdom, courage and patience. Wisdom, to know what to do, courage to do it and patience to know when to do it. 

"But I think I want to go a bit further. Can you pray for myself, but particularly leaders in the world, and our politicians for resilience? Golly some of them are looking tired. And the weight they bear is beyond all our imaginations. 

"The second thing is for myself, just continually, a fresh, filling of God's Holy Spirit day by day. I look back over the last 12 months, I see so many mistakes about which to kick myself. And then I realise that, despite all appearances, I'm probably still human. And certainly never superhuman. And I just long for that deeper walk with Jesus Christ and for the whole church to experience that.

Archbishop Justin's interview with Premier's David Senior can be read in full in Premier Christianity magazine. Get a free copy here.

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