Tragedy behind new Bishop of Durham’s calling

New Bishop Designate of Durham, the Very Rev Justin Welby.

New Bishop Designate of Durham, the Very Rev Justin Welby.

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THE new Bishop of Durham has spoken of how a family tragedy brought him closer to God.

The Very Reverend Justin Welby will replace Dr Tom Wright, who retired last year.

New Bishop Designate of Durham, the Right Rev Justin Welby addresses an audience at Durham Cathedral

New Bishop Designate of Durham, the Right Rev Justin Welby addresses an audience at Durham Cathedral

Dozens of well-wishers gathered on the lawn at the Cloister of Durham Cathedral in glorious Ascension Day weather, where they were introduced to the Bishop Designate.

Before ordination, he spent 11 years in the oil industry.

Dr Welby (pictured) will know his way around the North East as he lived in Durham from 1989 to 1992, while studying theology before his ordination.

He is married to Caroline and one of his five children, Eleanor, now 19, was born in the city.

Tragedy struck the Welbys in 1983, when their seven-month-old daughter Johanna died after a road accident in France.

“It deepened the faith of Caroline and myself,” he said.

“It was a horrible time, as you can imagine, a very dark time and yet I think we’ve almost never been as conscious of the presence of God as we were during that time.

“She died 28 years ago today. This was when we were living in France.

“Johanna was her name, which we discovered afterwards means ‘gift of God’ and that was very appropriate.

“She lived for seven months and died after five days in hospital.

“Lots and lots of people have gone through the same thing. It certainly keeps your feet on the ground.”

Dr Welby is expected to take over before the end of 2011. There are still complex procedures to go through involving the Queen, who is head of the Anglican Church.

He said he was feeling “a mixture of exhilaration and anticipation and also, to be honest, pretty terrified.

“What could make you possibly not want to come to Durham.

“It’s just an amazing part of the world to live, it’s got everything.”

He also intends to use his position in the House of Lords to speak up for the North East, such as the campaign to bring back the Lindisfarne Gospels.

“They are core to the heritage of this country because Northumbria – as it was then the kingdom of Northumbria – is core to the spiritual life of this country.

“It’s obviously very, very right that the heritage of this area is part of the life of this area.

“Really tight-knit communities have a real sense of their history and the drive to look forwards.

“Symbols of the history of such power and beauty – it’s wonderful if they can be kept in the area.

@sunderlandecho