Everyone on the team was in their smartest outfits. I pulled on a freshly ironed white shirt and my best blue blazer. I'd even given my shoes a quick buff. A short while after he was due to arrive, he breezes wearing casual trousers, a jumper and sneakers. He is at ease and he sets everyone else at ease as he begins the interview. He's very willing to talk about any subject. He knows that there will be 4000 people in the Butlin's Skyline venue and countless others watching online or on Spring Harvest TV, but it doesn't phase him. He remembers names, and wants to get details right. He is passionately concerned about the mission of the church, the welcoming of refugees, sharing the good news of the gospel. Afterwards he jokes around with his staff, whom he prays for daily. They only have kind words to say about him. It seems the closer you get to this man the more impressive he is. Here is a taster of the interview as he talks about unity and identity.
Krish: It's a difficult time for the church in general but within the Anglican Communion there have been all sorts of additional challenges recently. How do you steer towards unity in the middle of the maelstrom?
I think there's some obvious things which are really important. The first is we have to focus on Jesus. If we focus on each other, on our differences, on our priorities, whatever it happens to be, if that's not our first focus (and as I say this I'm only hesitating because I think how often irritation or other things draw me away from that) – when we focus on Jesus we find unity. We are united by the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ in the service of the Father. That is just critical. The second thing is prayer. Experience over the years of working not necessarily only across different denominations but within the Church of England with people with very deep differences is pray together and read scripture together, pray together and read scripture together, pray together and read scripture. After a while the extraordinary thing is you love each other. You still disagree but you love each other.
Krish: Watching your ministry in the public sphere what comes across is the reality and sincerity of your relationship with God. One thing that really impressed me last year was when all the information came out about the identity of your father. Your testimony in the middle of that was incredibly touching. Can you share a little bit about what was going through your mind when you were hearing all this news for the first time?
I think what was going through my mind was this is going to cause a really big fuss. This very nice journalist Charles Moore from The Telegraph came to see me. He was at a meal with someone who said that her former husband was really the Archbishop of Canterbury's father. And he said she seemed to have enough [evidence to support her case ]. When I looked at photographs it seemed to make some sense. She came came to see me and I said well why didn't we just get it clear by doing a DNA test. So we did a DNA test and this Antony Montague Brown turned out to be my father. I remember telling my colleagues and my communications director said, 'This is really going to be news. People are fed up with Brexit the papers will think this is a real gift.' I was writing an email to her and we talked and Caroline and I and the children talked and I was writing an email to her and saying, 'We've got to find out how to present this because what I feel is that my identity is not found in DNA it's found in Jesus Christ.' She wrote back and said, 'You've just written what we're going to say.' I hadn't intended to so I think it was another of those moments where it wasn't particularly clever of me, it was just somehow the spirit dropped it into my mind and it became a very clear thing. And then the more I thought about it the more I thought that is right and it's right biblically. Our identity, it's very clear it seems to me in the New Testament particularly in Paul, is that who we are is who we are in Christ. And I think we need to keep saying that because there'll be lots of people here for whom identity is an issue. It might not be because they discover that their father was someone other than they are. It may be because they're adopted or fostered or you know there's confusion or all kinds of things. We have an identity that is known to God and nothing changes that because it is held in his love through the cross and resurrection.
There was hush in the auditorium as the Archbishop opened up about his personal history and when it came to prayer for the Archbishop's trip to the Middle East and his hopes for and fears for that trip there was such affection and enthusiasm to pray, that all that could, stood and a Butlin's Skyline venue became a Cathedral and somehow Methodists, Baptists, Charismatics, Pentecostals, black, white and brown gathered around a brother in Christ who was not just the Archbishop for the church of England, but the Archbishop for us all. It didn't matter that there was no mitre, no bishop's crook. Here was a man dressed in the humility of Jesus, who found his identity in Christ not in his clothes, his DNA or his position. All of the Spring Harvest guests left the venue that day a little closer to God.
Krish Kandiah's latest book "God is Stranger" has a foreword written by Justin Welby. This interview took place at Spring Harvest where Archbishop Justin Welby spoke about the power and practicalities of unity and he asked for prayer for his current trip to the Middle East.