Bishop of Durham Justin Welby was appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury this week, charged with leading the 77-million member Anglican Communion.
"The Church of England plays an important role in our society, not just as the established church, but in the provision of education, help for the deprived and in furthering social justice," Prime Minister David Cameron said in the announcement.
Welby will take over for Rowan Williams, who announced his retirement earlier this year after leading the church for more than a decade.
“To be nominated to Canterbury is at the same time overwhelming and astonishing,” Welby said during the announcement. “It is overwhelming because of those I follow, and the responsibility it has. It is astonishing because it is something I never expected to happen.”
During his tenure, Williams oversaw divisions over women’s ordination and homosexuality.
“The Right Reverend Welby would represent a significant swing to the right for the Anglican church, following the controversial liberal stance of his predecessor Dr Rowan Williams,” the Daily Mail states. Welby is known for “upholding a more traditional and conservative interpretation of the Bible than some in the Church of England. But he is also a strong advocate of more modern styles of worship," the Telegraph states.
Welby, is considered a supporter of women bishops. The General Synod is expected to vote on women’s ordination later this month, and Welby has proposed a mechanism to allow those opposed to stay in the communion.
He opposes gay marriage, acknowledging that homosexuality is a highly divisive issue in the Anglican Communion.
"We must have no truck with any form of homophobia in any part of the church," he said, saying he planned to "listen to the voice of the LGBT communities and examine my own thinking."
As a former oil executive, Welby earned a six-figure salary but gave it up to become an Anglican priest, according to a BBC profile.
The decision came after the 1983 death of his seven-month-old daughter, Johanna, in a car crash. "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 in aninterview last year.
“I am delighted to hear of Bishop Welby’s appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said. “He brings knowledge of the immense challenges of the world in which the Anglican Communion seeks to partner in the service of God’s mission to heal and reconcile.”
Welby will be enthroned on March 21, 2013.