Justin Welby says he was embarrassed to find God
Forty years ago, Justin Welby was an unhappy pupil at Eton. Now, a relaxed Archbishop of Canterbury, he relives his unsettling moment of conversion and his wounded past. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said “I first saw this man 40 years ago, when we were both pupils at Eton. Later, I was with him at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was the shyest, most unhappy-looking boy you could imagine. Now he is 105th in the line that began with St Augustine. He seems to be loving it. I remark on the change, and he agrees. “That’s something to do with the Christian faith.”
Is it necessary, I ask, for a true Christian to have had a personal conversion experience? “Absolutely not. There is an incredible range of ways in which the Spirit works. It doesn’t matter how you get there. It really does quite matter where you are.”
Is it like suddenly realising that you love someone and want to marry that person? The Archbishop laughs: “That’s not what happened with Caroline [his wife] and me! And it’s not what happened with Peter, who got engaged to a lovely girl two days ago. That’s been a gradual thing.” But it did happen to him, in New Court, Trinity College, during the evening of October 12, 1975.
At Eton, he had “vaguely assumed there was a God. But I didn’t believe. I wasn’t interested at all.” That night in Cambridge, though, praying with a Christian friend, he suddenly felt “a clear sense of something changing, the presence of something that had not been there before in my life. I said to my friend, 'Please don’t tell anyone about this’, because I was desperately embarrassed that this had happened to me, like getting measles.”
Since then, there have been long periods with no sense of any presence at all, but he has never gone back on that night’s decision to follow Christ. This is not his doing: “It’s grace. Grace is a reality: feelings are ephemeral.”
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