The Tablet Blog
Canterbury still grabs interest of the secular pressChristopher Lamb
9 November 2012, 9:00
We often hear that the pews are emptying, the Churches are losing their appeal and Britain is fast becoming a secular county.
But this hasn't stopped huge media interest in the appointing of the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
As soon as the process of finding the successor of Dr Rowan Williams got under way, a steady stream of newspaper stories were published speculating on whom it might be.
Today, in front of a packed press conference in Lambeth Palace, Justin Welby was announced as the 105th man to sit on the throne of Saint Augustine. Although it wasn't a surprise, because most media outlets had already reported that he had got the job, as the archbishop-designate joked, 'this is the best kept secret since the last cabinet reshuffle.'
The appointment was one of the most talked about stories on the social networking site Twitter - 'tweets' that ended with the 'hashtag' #newABC (new Archbishop of Canterbury) 'trended' on Twitter throughout today. Such was their large number that many reporters left Lambeth Palace without being able to ask a question.
The media's interest in the appointment is a sign of the still-powerful Christian heritage of Britain. And the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with his London residence just across the river from the House of Commons, is a potent symbol of that.
What is also clear, however, is that this Christian heritage appears to be growing more distant. One reporter commented that the new archbishop was not, for example, on the front page of today's Daily Mail whereas 20 years ago he would have been. The interest in Archbishop-designate Welby's appointment has not grabbed the attention of the popular press although perhaps if the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who has written a column for the Sun on Sunday, had been appointed, that might have been different.
There is also a noticeable decrease in the number of specialist reporters covering religion. Bishop Welby handled his first encounter with the media impressively. He decided he wouldn't answer questions about gay marriage - although he mentioned it in his opening statement - and he gave straight replies to the curve balls that were thrown at him. One reporter asked him, 'Do you really believe in the Virgin Birth?' He replied: 'I can say the whole of the creed without crossing my fingers.'
Christopher Lamb is Assistant Editor (Home News) of The Tablet.