Between 3rd and 5th May 2018 Coventry Diocese celebrated their 100th anniversary – and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby played a key role at the centre of the celebrations.
Over the course of the three days I attended three events – the first in a Warwickshire farm, the second in the Nuneaton church where Justin was curate 1992-1995, and finally the Centenary Festival at Coventry Cathedral on Saturday 3rd May.
During all these events I was enormously impressed by Archbishop Justin. He engaged his audience with warmth and self-deprecating humour, telling several funny anecdotes; he answered questions with compassion, humility and wisdom; he told some astonishing stories about dangerous situations he has entered into around the world, during his reconciliation work.
He has visited some of the most dangerous places in the world and put his own life at risk (incuding an occasion when he was kidnapped). Above all, throughout these three days, he has been inspiring, encouraging and uplifting.
During the event on Friday 4th May Justin answered questions from people in their 20s and 30s and the first event of the day at the Cathedral was a Q and A session with teenagers.
It is so difficult to pick out any one thing among all the things I’ve heard him say during those three days, but one answer struck me in particular on Saturday morning. He had been describing his travels in countries torn by brutal conflict, who are in desperate need of the reconciliation work for which Coventry’s Cross of Nails ministry is famous. He was asked, “What is the greatest spiritual threat you’ve ever faced?”
He replied, “Sometimes I have met bad people – deeply evil people. And I have found that often these people can also be deeply charming, delightful and interesting. The danger then is that you might find yourself sucked into a collusive relationship. That’s why you need to be in a team, to guard against that – to ensure compromise doesn’t go too far.”
He said risk is essential to reconciliation. And certainly he has often taken extreme risks in his own reconciliation work. He also said that sometimes he is overwhelmed by the sorrow of the situations he encounters. His wisest word on the subject of reconciliation work? “You must start by reconciling yourself to God.”