Justin Welby: The clergyman who revelled in major deals

Justin Welby excelled in financial dealing as a young oil executive. But as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, his greatest challenges may yet lie ahead.

Perseverance is a Christian virtue, and it's just as well for the Church of England and some 80 million Anglicans worldwide that the next Archbishop of Canterbury has it in spades, says The Sunday Telegraph.

When the young oil executive and evangelical convert first applied for ordination in 1988, he was told by the then Bishop of Kensington: "There is no place for you in the Church of England." But as Justin Welby tells it, he had little choice in the matter.

"I was unable to get away from a sense of God calling," he recalled in a recent interview with Money Marketing. "I went kicking and screaming, but I couldn't escape it."

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At his first press conference in Lambeth Palace last week, Welby seemed taken aback when one observer suggested he may be the most "worldly" man ever chosen for Canterbury. "Good gracious," he said. "That's putting me up there with some of the medieval archbishops who owned vast tracts of land."

But former colleagues at Enterprise Oil, where he was group treasurer, say he "revelled" in major deals and takeovers. As he told Financial News last year: "I was good at structuring hedges and it just all turned to gold."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that statement, says The Guardian, is that it flies in the face of Welby's "famous technique of management by self-deprecation": a trait that has stood him in good stead during his remarkably swift ascendancy through the Church hierarchy (see below).

He might be an Eton and Cambridge-educated financier, but he comes across as the opposite of bombastic. As Ann Treneman notes in The Times: "If the current Archbishop looks like God, this one looks a bit like God's geeky assistant."

Nonetheless, Welby has "the undoubted pedigree of Britain's ruling class", says The Independent. His great uncle was the former Conservative deputy PM, Rab Butler, and his mother, Jane Portal, was a private secretary to Winston Churchill. His father, Gavin was a more unconventional figure.

The son of German-Jewish immigrants, he was put on a boat to New York as a teenager with £5 in his pocket. A bootlegger during the Depression, "he is credited with introducing John F Kennedy to his first mistress and a romantic entanglement with the actress Vanessa Redgrave". He split with Justin's mother, when the future archbishop was four.

The contrast with his uxorious son, who married straight out of Cambridge and went on to have six children, could not be more striking. But Welby has had to cope with tragedy. He and his wife were devastated when their first child, Johanna, was killed as a baby in a car accident, while he was working for Elf in Paris.

Returning to London he found solace and later his vocation at Holy Trinity Brompton, the birthplace of the Alpha evangelical movement. God, as the poet William Cowper first observed, "moves in mysterious ways".

The Church's best analyst of capitalism

"Am I right in thinking", asks a correspondent to The Times, "that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has more business experience than the PM, the Deputy PM and the Chancellor of the Exchequer combined?" Welby has certainly built a reputation as "the Church's best informed analyst of capitalism", and a trenchant critic of its excesses, says Matthew Engel in the FT.

In the early 1990s, he published a theological dissertation entitled "Can Companies Sin?" On becoming Bishop of Durham last year (thus joining the House of Lords), he was swiftly recruited to the parliamentary banking committee.

"He doesn't just bring an ethical perspective. He brings an expertise and a detailed understanding... whether it is on derivatives, on which he is an expert, or ring-fencing the banks," says the Labour peer Lord McFall. And he intends to keep doing the job.

The Church of England "is like a chaotic old publishing house, now producing substandard material, but with the best backlist in the world", says Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph. Notoriously fractured, it needs "tough love", and Welby looks just the man to bring it.

He's certainly got nerves of steel. When working for Elf in the Nigerian Delta, he came close to being killed several times, once persuading a would-be kidnapper to lay off on grounds that "nobody would pay to have me back".

Welby is such a popular choice, that one of his biggest challenges may be combating "Obama-fication", says Cole Morton in The Sunday Telegraph. But not everyone's a fan. "Though nobody doubts his brains, many question his experience," says The Economist. "He has held only one bishopric... and that for barely a year."

The task ahead is certainly daunting, says Engels. Can Welby be a force for business morality, while keeping sweet with the PM? Hold the furiously anti-gay Nigerians in harmony with the Americans? Make the English believe the Church actually matters? "He has as good a chance as anyone."