A former oil executive has been named as the spiritual leader of some 80 million Anglicans across the world. Justin Welby faces the prospect of a break-up of the church over issues such as female bishops and gay rights.
Welby is due to become the 105th archbishop of Canterbury in December after months of confidential negotiations between members of the church hierarchy.
A dispute over whether to choose a reformer or a conservative had stalled the process of nomination.
The 56-year-old Welby is widely believed to be an opponent of gay marriage, but a supporter of the ordination of women as bishops. He has been described as more conservative than liberal.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Welby reacted with enthusiasm at his new position in the Church of England.
"It is both astonishing and exciting. Because I believe we are at a point where the tide of events is turning," he said.
The appointment is somewhat unprecedented, in that Welby is currently the bishop of Durham, a post which he has only held for one year. He attended Cambridge University before embarking on a career in the oil industry, working in London, Paris and Nigeria and began training as a priest following the death of his infant daughter in a car crash. He was ordained in 1992.
"I learnt a great deal from the companies for which I worked, above all from bosses and colleagues," Welby told reporters.
Analysts have said that Welby's experience in business and public life, which have seen his involvement in committees investigating the banking crisis, could be of help in resolving the bitter divisions within the church.
Welby will succeed current incumbent Rowan Williams, who has led the church for the past decade and claims his successor will need "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros."
rc/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)