Friday, 29 April 2016


A healthy dose of reality
The recent revelation that our Anglican Archbishop, Justin Welby, is the illegitimate son of Sir Anthony Montague Browne has all the ingredients for a global scandal. After all, it has elements of sex, booze, high society, beautiful women, political power and religion. Yet the public face of some 77 million Anglicans worldwide has deftly deflated the story by resorting to good old fashioned honesty and, yes, holiness.

Lady Williams

Honesty is the best policy
For starters, his 86-year-old mother, a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t touch a drop in decades, deftly took the wind out of the yellow-press sails.  Lady Williams of Elvel, a former magistrate and a deputy lieutenant for Greater London, said in an interview: “Naturally, my son has deserved an explanation and I have been as open as I can.”

She went on to reveal that, “fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides”, she and Sir Anthony had slept together only days before her “very sudden marriage” to Gavin Welby, a whisky salesman with social aspirations.

Because our archbishop was born nine months after that wedding he was presumed to have been a honeymoon baby. So mother and son would have been shocked by the paternity news but there was no attempt by either to dodge the issue.

An uncomplicated response
The Telegraph broke the story and a senior journalist reveals that, when he approached the archbishop with circumstantial evidence that had been garnered, Justin Welby’s uncomplicated reaction was “why don’t we do a DNA test?’  A saliva swab was taken from inside his cheek.

Lady Montague Browne, Sir Anthony’s widow and a former personal assistant to Churchill’s wife, readily produced a hair from her deceased husband’s hairbrush for the other half of the DNA test.

It appears that she had long suspected that he was Justin Welby’s father.  She told The Telegraph that, many years earlier, her then husband had teasingly said: “I’m told I have a son… you’ll find out one day.”

Moreover, when Archbishop Justin’s appointment was announced her son from a previous marriage (seems the aristocracy and Elizabeth Taylor have multi-matrimony in common) began discussing with Sir Anthony how uncannily alike they looked.

Sir Anthony Montague Browne

The old man was in a care home at the time and they spoke in French to avoid being overheard.

Separately, Jane Hoare-Temple, the daughter of Sir Anthony and his first wife, Noel, had concluded that there must be a family connection because the Archbishop was “the spitting image of my father”.  (Add a half-sister to the already interesting equation)

Archbishop Justin Welby

True leaders don’t duck
It all makes for a great story but I believe history will underscore the archbishop’s response rather that the juicy gossip.

I’ll treat you to his statement in full:-

In the last month I have discovered that my biological father is not Gavin Welby but, in fact, the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne.

This comes as a complete surprise.

My mother (Jane Williams) and father (Gavin Welby) were both alcoholics. My mother has been in recovery since 1968, and has not touched alcohol for over 48 years. I am enormously proud of her.

My father (Gavin Welby) died as a result of the alcohol and smoking in 1977 when I was 21.
As a result of my parents’ addictions my early life was messy, although I had the blessing and gift of a wonderful education, and was cared for deeply by my grandmother, my mother once she was in recovery, and my father (Gavin Welby) as far as he was able.

I have had a life of great blessing and wonderful support, especially from Caroline and our children, as well as a great many wonderful friends and family.
My own experience is typical of many people. To find that one's father is other than imagined is not unusual. To be the child of families with great difficulties in relationships, with substance abuse or other matters, is far too normal.

By the grace of God, found in Christian faith, through the NHS, through Alcoholics Anonymous and through her own very remarkable determination and effort, my mother has lived free of alcohol, has a very happy marriage, and has contributed greatly to society as a probation officer, member of the National Parole Board, Prison Visitor and with involvement in penal reform.

She has also played a wonderful part in my life and in the lives of my children and now grandchildren, as has my stepfather whose support and encouragement has been generous, unstinting and unfailing.

This revelation has, of course, been a surprise, but in my life and in our marriage Caroline and I have had far worse. I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes. Even more importantly my role as Archbishop makes me constantly aware of the real and genuine pain and suffering of many around the world, which should be the main focus of our prayers.

Although there are elements of sadness, and even tragedy in my father's (Gavin Welby’s) case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives. It is a testimony to the grace and power of Christ to liberate and redeem us, grace and power which is offered to every human being.

At the very outset of my inauguration service three years ago, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: “We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?” To which I responded: “I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.” What has changed? Nothing!

Cheated by death
Sir Winston Churchill

Father and son had met  within the Churchill circle. when Archbishop Justin was still a boy. Poignantly, when the archbishop was appointed in 2013, his father asked to see him but died ­­­­­­before that could happen.

Sir Anthony Arthur Duncan Montague Browne KCMG CBE DFC was a decorated war time pilot and diplomat who was private secretary to Sir Winston Churchill for the last ten years of the latter's life.

Gavin Welby, who died of a heart attack in 1977, also served in the Second World War but later “promoted” himself from lieutenant to captain A social climber, he’d changed his name from Weiler to Welby and dated John F Kennedy’s sister Pat as well as the actress Vanessa Redgrave. The Gatsby-like character stood for the UK Parliament twice and never revealed a short-lived marriage to an American heiress.

The archbishop would later describe him as “a complicated man” but “really, really brilliant”. Notably, he honours Gavin Welby in his statement and once remarked that if his presumed father had been honest about his life, it would have been “a fantastic story” of overcoming setbacks.

Two very different ‘fathers’. No doubt our archbishop is the sum of both parts and I love how real he is.

Lessons in identity
It appears that he hinted at the dramatic revelations to come when he spoke in Zambia to a gathering of young people from across Africa  two days before the news broke.

Addressing the question of personal identity on the eve of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting, he told them: “We need to be a church where I am who I am because I am in Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing that gives me identity and you will see why I am saying that in a couple days’ time."

Since that dramatic disclosure Archbishop Welby has been widely praised by faith leaders, Coptic, Jewish and Catholic alike for the dignity, grace and forgiveness with which he greeted the revelation.

For my part I’m immensely relieved that the Church scrapped the rule that barred an illegitimate man from becoming archbishop. That particular Canon was around for hundreds of years so perhaps there is hope for a couple of others to be trashed.

I also know that by simply writing this blog I have not only been alerted to several potential sermons on identity, I have a glimmer of hope that the example of compassion will take us on a journey of love towards  greater acceptance of political refugees and our  LGBT brothers and sisters.

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