The Bishop of Durham, the Right Revd Justin Welby, has officially become the Archbishop of Canterbury at a ceremony known as the Confirmation of Election, which took place in the context of an act of worship in St Paul's Cathedral on Monday, 4 February.

The ceremony forms part of the legal process by which the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury is put into effect. It was presided over by the Archbishop of York with the assistance of the Bishops of London, Winchester, Salisbury, Worcester, Rochester, Lincoln, Leicester and Norwich. All were commissioned for this purpose by Her Majesty The Queen – who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Bishop Justin’s name was put forward to The Queen some months ago by the Church’s Crown Nominations Commission in accordance with constitutional arrangements that have been in place for many years.  The appointment is formalised by legal steps taken in accordance with the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533.

First, his election was undertaken in January by the Dean and Canons of Canterbury Cathedral. Next, their election of him has to be confirmed by the wider Church, which is what happened on Monday.

The appointment is significant not only for the Diocese of Canterbury (where he will be the diocesan bishop, though much of the day-to-day oversight of the diocese is carried out on his behalf by the Bishop of Dover), but also for the wider Province of Canterbury – the 29 dioceses in the South of England, and the Diocese of Europe, which all fall under his general oversight.

In addition, it is to the bishop of the See of Canterbury, with which Anglicans have historically been in communion, that Anglicans worldwide give a primacy of honour and respect among the college of bishops in the Anglican Communion – as “first among equals” (primus inter pares). In that role, as a focus and means of unity within the Communion, the Archbishop convenes and works with the Lambeth Conference and Primates’ Meeting, and presides in the Anglican Consultative Council.

Since at least the 4th century, it has been a fundamental principle in the Christian Church that the election of a new bishop must be confirmed by the wider Church, especially by the bishops of the region. The legal significance of the act of confirmation cannot be overstated: it confers upon the new Archbishop “the care, government and administration of the spirituals” of the archbishopric.  It is the confirmation of his election which makes the Archbishop-elect into the Bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury and Archbishop of the Province.

The wording used in the course of the confirmation ceremony has a long history. Before the 18th century, it was in Latin, but in about 1733, an English translation was introduced. At the service on Monday, a somewhat modernised version was used. It involved recital of the Mandate from the Queen, authorising the appointment; introduction of the new Archbishop; certification of the steps taken in his election by the dean and canons of Canterbury; his Declaration of Assent to the historic doctrines and worship of the Church of England; a “Charge” by the Archbishop of York, based on the needs of the diocese and province perceived by those involved in his appointment; and finally a “Sentence” conferring on him spiritual jurisdiction over the diocese and province.

After this step has been taken, there remain other formal stages before he begins his public ministry in Church and State, in particular his act of homage to The Queen. The public inauguration of his ministry – the Enthronement – will take place at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March, and will be broadcast live on the BBC.

Meanwhile, the new Archbishop will be familiarising himself with the tasks he will be called upon to perform over the coming years, meeting those he will be working with most closely and preparing himself generally for all that lies ahead. 

He invites your prayers, for himself, his family, the Church and the nation, during this period of preparation – and beyond.   

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