ABC Welby Announces Sabbatical in 2021

By | November 25, 2020

Imagine a situation in which the pope takes three months off for self-care. Not just the annual summer staycation at Castel Gandolfo, but three months to hang out, study, and recover from the stresses of the job. And while the Curia and the rest of the Vatican bureaucracy would no doubt continue to lumber along, Catholics would be shocked and appalled.

But Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) Welby, first among equals of the Anglican bishops, doesn’t face the same compunctions. Indeed, earlier this week he announced that he would be taking a three-month sabbatical for “spiritual renewal,” possibly to the US. During that time, Welby says he will undertake “further study on reconciliation.”

The news comes at a remarkably bad time and smacks of the self-indulgence that has become endemic in much of the Anglican Communion. In short, it’s an awful idea.

Consider:

  • The global pandemic is raging, and reaching catastrophic new heights. Most believe things will get much worse in the coming weeks as people ignore travel restrictions and other guidance intended to slow the spread of this fearsome disease. Meanwhile, persons the world over suffer anguish, loss of employment, and the death of loved ones.
  • The Church of England has just received the results of a long-expected and utterly scathing report on its handling of abuse in the church. Welby professes to be shocked and appalled and committed to ending abuse, even though the evidence is clear that abuse in the church is hardly news to him, and that he has in some cases been untruthful in his responses. Thus, if Welby indeed is serious about ending abuse, taking a sabbatical represents a remarkably slow start to what will be a long and excruciatingly difficult process.
  • Nations worldwide see the rise of far-right and nationalist movements that appear to threaten democratic institutions.
  • Racial reconciliation is problematic not just in the United States, but throughout much of the west, with unprecedented numbers of Syrian and other refugees seeking asylum.
  • The Gospels’ recounting of Jesus’ ministry seem very much at variance with Welby’s sabbatical, instead recounting how the whole town gathered around the door to his home, while crowds gathered to hear him speak.

And while Lambeth Palace is rather sparse and Tudor by comparison to the Vatican, no one should conclude that between Canterbury Palace and his Lambeth digs that Welby lives a life marked by deprivation.

Nor does the fact that the sabbatical will take place in 2021 offer much assurance. Even though Welby no doubt will be among the first to receive an anti-COVID vaccine, all signs suggest that that the world will remain in a messy state next year.

As to Welby’s assertions on Twitter about the scriptural basis for a sabbatical, this author believes he fails to differentiate between honoring the Sabbath (one day a week without work), and a three-month sabbatical. Most of us do not enjoy the luxury of a sabbatical, and indeed damned little vacation, and I for one don’t feel the need to cut into my household budget to further indulge already pampered clergy, who far too often seem to have no idea what life is really like in the working world.

In other words, here we go with another bout of narcissistic self-care, this time from the upper echelons of the Anglican Communion, at a time when a hurting world needs the church more than ever.

Way to go, Welby. You truly are clueless.

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