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Archbishop Justin Welby: ‘I was embarrassed. It was like getting measles’

By Charles Moore, Telegraph

Forty years ago, Justin Welby was an unhappy pupil at Eton. Now, a relaxed Archbishop of Canterbury, he relives his unsettling moment of conversion and his wounded past

'It’s such a lovely day, let’s go into the garden,” says the Archbishop of Canterbury. Carrying a tray heavy with coffee cups, he leads us down the wide steps of Lambeth Palace round to its wider lawns. Justin Welby is the fourth Archbishop I have met in this place; though new in the job, he is by far the most relaxed.

He answers everything with the same directness. Since he is an evangelical, I ask him whether he can speak “in tongues” – the “charismatic” spiritual gift recorded in the New Testament. Oh yes, he says, almost as if he had been asked if he plays tennis, “It’s just a routine part of spiritual discipline – you choose to speak and you speak a language that you don’t know. It just comes. Bramble! Go and find Peter [the Welbys’ second son, one of five living children, and brother of Johanna, who died in a car crash as a baby], you idiot!” The last bit of these remarks is addressed to his exuberant six-month-old Clumber spaniel who has rushed up to him.

I am amazed. I first saw this man 40 years ago, when we were both pupils at Eton. Later, I was with him at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was the shyest, most unhappy-looking boy you could imagine. Now he is 105th in the line that began with St Augustine. He seems to be loving it. I remark on the change, and he agrees. “That’s something to do with the Christian faith,” he says.

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