The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will take a three-month sabbatical next year for “reflection, prayer, and spiritual renewal”, Lambeth Palace has said.
During his absence next summer, Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York and currently number two in the Church of England hierarchy, will step up to lead the church. Sarah Mullally, the bishop of London and the third most senior bishop, will assist.
Lambeth Palace said it was “normal practice” for archbishops to take time off from their official duties. Welby’s predecessor, Rowan Williams, took a three-month sabbatical in 2007, in which he wrote a book. George Carey, Williams’s predecessor, took two months off in 1997.
Welby had been due to take sabbatical earlier this year but it was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lambeth Palace said the archbishop would be studying the concept of reconciliation – one of the personal priorities of his ministry – during his time away from his post.
He is expected to spend it in Cambridge or the US, although he may spend time in his house in northern France. He will be in regular contact with his staff while away. He is due to resume his official duties in September 2021.
Welby faced criticism earlier this year over his response to the pandemic. Some clergy said he had gone further than was required by the government in banning priests from entering their churches. Others said he had failed to provide a strong moral voice for the nation in a time of extreme anxiety and uncertainty.
During the latest lockdown in England, there has been a notable change of tone. Welby and other senior faith leaders have challenged the scientific basis on which the government closed places of worship for communal services and prayer and have demanded a rethink.
All members of the clergy are permitted to apply to take a sabbatical period every seven to 10 years, and Welby – who has been archbishop since 2013 – last took a period of leave in 2005.