He had been “the shyest, most unhappy-looking boy you could imagine,” –so journalist Charles Moore recollects Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, a fellow-student at Eton, and Trinity College, Cambridge.
The alcoholic father, who had custody of him was, The Telegraph had revealed, a conman, a trickster, and (to Welby’s surprise) German-Jewish, not upper-class English. His childhood was “utterly insecure”. Except when at school at Eton, he never spent more than a week at a place; there were “moonlight flits” to evade rent and creditors. His father did not pay the fees for Welby’s last two years at Eton, a feat in itself!!
And then, at Cambridge, something happened. The Spirit blew; there was a revival of sorts; Nicky Gumbel of Alpha, and Nicky Lee of HTB, both at Trinity, as well as three other Nickys (four of them Etonians!) became Christians. I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. The sense that something had changed was instantaneous, Welby said. It felt like the world changing, like someone I’d never known coming into the room and being there. He was “overwhelmed by a sense of God’s love for him,” as Andrew Atherstone writes in his unofficial biography of Welby.
The child of alcoholic parents, whose childhood was deeply insecure, becomes the spiritual leader of 85 million Anglicans.
An unlikely and wonderful true fairy tale.
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And that is why we love fairy tales. Because, not infrequently, not infrequently, our lives and the lives of those we love resemble them. Because a kind author is crafting the story of our lives, “shaping our ends for good, rough hew them how we will.” Because Christianity is a true fairy tale, as Tolkein famously told C. S. Lewis, contributing to his conversion.
For the dark areas of one’s life to turn to the gold of fairy tales is an entirely reasonable expectation when we invite Jesus Christ to control these stuttering areas, ask for his instructions, and then do whatever he tells us.
A challenging marriage, a stalled career, a faltering business, ravaged health, impossible dreams–in the midst of all of these, it is completely rational to have great hope because of the power of God. Each of these can completely turn around once we invite Jesus to be the Lord of that area, and of our lives. He will suggest revisions to the current chapter, and inspire drafts of the next ones. The business, health and career may well turn around and ascend under the new divine management. Or they may crash… and a golden, unexpected next chapter may arise phoenix-like from the ashes.
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Justin Welby changed so utterly that Moore meeting him 40 years later was amazed. Of course, The Telegraph recently revealed that Welby’s biological father was Anthony Montague Browne, Churchill’s private secretary, who later worked for the Queen, and from whom he evidently received a genetic inheritance of solidity, good judgement and sound nerves. Inherited brain chemistry makes a psychopath or sociopath behave like one; but it can also be a beneficent inheritance, as it was for Welby.
But other factors contributed to the change in Welby that so astonished Moore…the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, dynamic teaching, his own disciplined follow-through, and, crucially, a circle of friends: Nicky Gumbel and the Eton-Oxbridge-Holy Trinity Brompton nexus that has a huge, hidden influence on the Church of England today. (Many influential figures such as Nicky Gumbel, John Stott, David Watson, Michael Green and Welby were converted or discipled by a man called E. J. H. Nash or Bash).
Serendipity or the grace of god… That is how Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled explains people who have fruitful and creative lives despite distressing childhoods. In Welby’s case, it was both.
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Our inheritance from our family–of intelligence, money, education and upbringing–may not be exactly what we would have chosen.
But once we accept Jesus as our Lord in medieval feudal language, we become part of Christ as he becomes part of us, and now have access to a new inheritance.
This differs from person to person. For some it’s an inheritance of this world, the sort that’s visible, valued and coveted–and for some it’s an inheritance “out of this world.”
Here are some blessings that are part of the inheritance of every children of God:
A friend, Jesus our brother, always walking beside us.
Access to Christ himself, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Guidance from Christ. Access to his wisdom when it comes to solving the problems of our life….whether mundane–how to get the money we need for the fullest, richest, most creative life–or spiritual (stuff which is the essence of life!)
The joy of the Holy Spirit, which resembles being drunk.
The power of the Holy Spirit to help us do difficult things.
Inspiration, though the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
The knowledge of the presence of God beside us, and the Holy Spirit within us.
Protection from evil.
The promise of wisdom.
Serendipity; a connection-making God.
The forgiveness of our sins: wow!!
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Bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. The anguished cry of the man in the crowd echoes through the centuries. Inheritances, conniving to get them, families divided by the unfair division of them are a major theme of fiction, Victorian fiction, in particular—and of real life too!!
An inheritance is always a blessing in the Old Testament– “houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.” The mark of a good man was that he would leave an inheritance for his children’s children.
But the spiritual inheritance of the children of God far trumps any worldly inheritance. Read the list again! Who would jeopardise such blessings? And this inheritance that is available to all who would claim it.
“I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics,” Justin Welby said, reflecting on his “story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives…a testimony to the grace and power of Christ to liberate and redeem us, grace and power which is offered to every human being.”
And that is our truest inheritance as Christians, the invitation to live in a true fairy tale of a deep change in our hearts and characters; answered prayer; the surprising, the exciting, the miraculous. A fairy tale with roles in it for anyone who would come play.