New Bishop of Durham makes an impression

by Neil McKay, Evening Chronicle Nov 22 2011

This week the new Bishop of Durham Justin Welby is touring the region before his enthronement on Saturday. He is already making something of an impression, as Neil McKay reports. For many the Church of England has been out of touch with the ordinary man or woman. The Tory Party at prayer, it has been scornfully labelled. Strangely enough, an Old Etonian may be about to change all that, with the aid of 21st Century social networks. Bishop Justin Welby has turned to Twitter in a bid to reach out to find out what his parishioners want. He is inviting the region to have their say on what they want for their communities via social networking websites. As well as giving people an easy way to communicate, people are also being invited to send in prayers. The father-of-five said: “We all know that times are hard in this area. Many people are really struggling with jobs being lost and the future can feel very bleak. “But the spirit of the people of the North East has always prevailed in hard times. “When things are tough, sensible people turn to God. We often make prayer sound really difficult, but at its heart prayer is sometimes telling God our hopes and dreams and then letting him shape us and our future. “I hope many people will take this chance to stop for perhaps just a few minutes, say to God what’s on their mind about their own future and the future of all of us here, and then share that prayer. “We see social networking as important because it’s a whole new way of attracting people to the word of God.” People can send their prayers to the bishop by liking the Facebook page or on Twitter at @prayerof and using the hash tag #prayerofthepeople. Bishop Welby, who will celebrate his 56th birthday in January, had a privileged upbringing but has also known the most painful loss of all – the death of a child. He was educated at Eton before going to Trinity College, Cambridge to study law and history. He then spent 11 years in the oil industry, eventually becoming group treasurer of Enterprise Oil PLC. Bishop Welby said the death of baby daughter Johanna, in a road accident in France in 1983 when she was just seven-months, had drawn his family closer to their faith. “It was a very dark time for my wife Caroline and myself, but in a strange way it actually brought us closer to God,” he said. After the tragedy, Dr Welby continued in the oil business and by 1987 had moved to the top of the oil finance industry, but chose to resign. From earning huge amounts of money, he and his growing family had to scrape by on the stipend of a junior clergyman. On Saturday, Bishop Welby is enthroned at Durham Cathedral. He was previously Dean of Liverpool. He began a busy week yesterday touring the region with a visit to the Angel of the North. Prayers were then held at St Ninian’s in Harlow Green. Bishop Welby was also impressed with the Lumiere Festival of which Durham Cathedral was a key part.

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