Archbishop of Canterbury to take summer sabbatical for 'spiritual renewal' in 2021

Between May and September, the Most Rev Justin Welby will take a break for study, reflection and prayer

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arriving for the Christmas Day service at Canterbury Cathedral, 2017
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arriving for the Christmas Day service at Canterbury Cathedral, 2017 Credit: Gareth Fuller /PA

The Archbishop of Canterbury will take a sabbatical for “spiritual renewal”, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, 64, will take a break from his role from May to September next year.

It is understood he will spend some of the time in his six-bedroom house in a remote hamlet in Normandy, France, which he has previously referred to as his “happy place”, and that he will focus on “study, prayer and reflection”.

While it is not unprecedented for the most senior bishop in the Church of England to take an extended break from the role, many will question the timing given the continuing challenges facing society because of the pandemic. 

In 2007, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, took a three-month sabbatical to write a book: Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and ­Fiction. Furthermore, in 1997, Lord Carey also took a two-month sabbatical.

The Archbishop has been leading the Church during an unprecedented period. In the first lockdown, the Church faced criticism for not challenging the Government’s decision to close places of worship. Ahead of the second lockdown, the Archbishop questioned the Government over why communal worship was being banned.

News of the most senior bishop in the Church of England taking a sabbatical from his role as the 105th Archbishop emerged following the Canterbury Diocesan Synod at the weekend.  Every member of the clergy, even archbishops, are entitled to apply for a sabbatical every seven to 10 years.

It is understood the Archbishop had intended to take his sabbatical after the Lambeth Conference, scheduled for summer 2020. However, this was delayed as a result of the pandemic.

There will not be an interim Archbishop of Canterbury while he is on sabbatical, rather the current Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, will step in for national duties. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, will also assist in her role as Dean of the Southern Province.

A Lambeth Palace spokesperson said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury will be taking a sabbatical in 2021 for study, reflection and prayer.”