One look at the fascinating background of Canon Justin Welby, soon to be Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, indicates he is heaven-sent for the city, reports Peter Elson
HAVING ancestors who were German Jewish immigrants and escaped a late 19th-century anti-Semitic persecution, and a US prohibition-busting bootlegger father, is an unlikely background for a senior churchman.
But, in the case of Canon Justin Welby, 51, this appears to be the perfect family tree to qualify him for a Liverpool job, where everyone’s ancestors came from somewhere else and never did the obvious.
Neither is Canon Welby a career journeyman himself.
After leaving Cambridge University. he worked for a while for the giant French oil company, Elf.
In 1984, he joined Enterprise Oil, becoming finance group treasurer, before hearing “the call” and entering the priesthood.
He will be installed at Liverpool Cathedral on Saturday, December 8, at 4pm, as its sixth Dean since the first – Frederick Dwelly – a renowned liturgical specialist, was appointed in 1931.
The new Dean wants Liverpool Cathedral to be known as “a place of generous hospitality”. This builds on Dean Dwelly’s cathedral philosophy of inclusion in religious and educational activities.
Well-prepared for the more robust environment of Liverpool life, Canon Welby, a father of five, last week left his post of five years as sub-dean at Coventry Cathedral.
His church career began in Coventry diocese as a curate in Nuneaton and then Vicar of Southam, a small Midlands market town.
As a director of Coventry’s International Centre for Reconciliation (created in 1940 after the horrific bombing raids there), he travelled widely abroad, mediating in disputes.
“My father’s side were German Jewish immigrants who moved to England to avoid anti-Semitism in the late 19th century and integ- rated very quickly,” says Canon Welby, whose mother’s side of British Empire administrators also produced a few clergymen.
“Using £5 donated by my grandmother, my dad went to the US and was a bootlegger under prohibition and then traded legally.
“After serving in World War II, he started a company selling scotch.”
His wife, Caroline, taught classics at Coventry University until their relocation to the Deanery, adjacent to Liverpool cathedral.
Their family consists of Tim, 23, who is married; Katharine, 21, who plans to be married next summer in Liverpool Cathedral; Peter, 18, who is about to spend a gap year at a Yemeni eye clinic; Eleanor, 15; and Hannah, 12.
The Dean is responsible for the life and direction of the cathedral and is also part of the Bishop of Liverpool’s senior staff team, with a wider role in the diocese.
“I’m trying to see what the cathedral is there for and enable it to play a full part in the city in the next year or two,” says Canon Welby.
“What’s clear is that Liverpool has enormous influence and extraordinary history, one of the world’s great port cities.
“Having rarely visited the city before, I find it has an incredibly vibrant cultural and sporting life.
“Coventry’s history was shaped by the Second World War in a very decisive way, but Liverpool was also much more shaped by changing patterns of life and patterns of working as well.
“The more you read and hear about Liverpool, the more stunning it is.
“Liverpool is very famous abroad and has been outward looking, and the cathedral must be at the centre of that.