The first shall be last and the last shall be first

Today the next Archbishop of Canterbury was announced. In the New Year Justin Welby will leave his current post as Bishop of Durham and move south to take over from Rowan Williams as head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion. This is a big deal, it will matter a lot in the coming years who takes this role. And it seems to me they’ve chosen a good man, he cited the West Wing in the press conference after the appointment was officially made public, so that bodes well.

But that’s not what I’m writing about, I’ve already done so elsewhere, I did that yesterday afternoon. More I wanted to think about the mass of press releases and quotes that were bombarded at journalists and the twittering public at the strike of eleven this morning. Press officers furiously overriding their scheduled auto send or publish as Downing Street tweeted the official version of events ten minutes early. I should know, I was one of them.

Because the announcement had been rumoured for several days, and more or less confirmed by Wednesday evening, it gave everyone plenty of time to check his biography, scour his prior public pronouncements, draft quotes and get it all lined up for the official announcement. So by the time he took to the lectern in the Guard Room at Lambeth Palace to speak to the assembled journalists and many more as the pictures were broadcast live, the quotes were winging their way to the news desks and editors. Ruth Dickinson from Christianity Magazine tweeted a photo of her inbox.

The contrast struck me as the questions came in and were answered by Justin Welby with humility and grace. That here was a man who seemed to barely seek the post he was now set to take, that such inclination against preferment was almost a pre-requisite for the role. But there were hundreds tweeting their comments and statements at breakneck pace to grab the attention of any journalist struggling to fill their copy. Which is unlikely.

I’ve no doubt the quotes and the calls for prayer are sincere. I am certain that all those sending out their congratulations and best wishes really do think exactly what they are saying, it’s not the content that I’m a bit perturbed by. It’s the rush for preferment in the pages of the press. The mentality that says, here on one of the very few days when the church gets to dominate the main stream press on an issue of its choosing and in a way it decides, we end up trying to jostle to the left or the right of the man to gain some reflected glory if only one of those writing the story for the nationals might choose to use our quote.

In my own complicity I realise this stinks.

We should pray for Justin Welby, I think he sounds a fantastic man for the job, I hope that those quoted by the press will call others to do likewise. I hope that we will get behind a man taking on a position few would choose to carry, and if they did are likely unsuited for its burdens. I hope that he gets our support and our encouragement and not just as a way to segue into calling him to support our causes and views however noble they maybe.

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