From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Archbishop of Canterbury carries on 1,400-year tradition
20 Apr 2000 15:34:33
April 20, 2000 News media contact: Linda Bloom·(212) 870-3803·New York
NOTE: This report is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS story #217. Photographs
By Kathleen LaCamera*
CANTERBURY, England (UMNS) -- When the Most Rev. George Leonard Carey steps
up to the podium to address the United Methodist General Conference, he will
do so as the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the 70 million-strong
Anglican communion worldwide and chaplain to the entire multicultural
His predecessors include the likes of Thomas a Becket, Thomas Cranmer and
St. Augustine, who was the first archbishop of Canterbury appointed by Pope
Gregory the Great in 596 A.D.
As the most senior bishop in the state-established Church of England, he has
a special role in the life of the nation. Technically, it is the archbishop
of Canterbury, and not the prime minister, who is second in command after
the Royal Family in Britain. It is the archbishop who places the crown on
the head of any queen or king of England, symbolizing the long association
between church and monarchy.
The archbishop of Canterbury, along with the archbishop of York and 24 other
Anglican bishops, sits in Britain's House of Lord in Parliament. He, along
with all the other members (or peers as they are called), votes on policies
and law for the entire nation. It is also the archbishop who regularly
officiates on state occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.
All this and a huge range of pastoral and church leadership responsibilities
make up the regular daily "routine" of this one lone individual, also known
as Primate of All England (a title that one British journalist
affectionately confessed made her think "of an episcopal monkey swinging
across the nation). It's a daunting job description to say the least.
Carey will address General Conference, the United Methodist Church's top
legislative body, on May 10 in Cleveland. It will be the first time that a
head of the Anglican Church has addressed the General Conference.
The United Methodist News Service had the opportunity to interview Carey
(formally addressed as "Your Grace" in conversation) on the Wednesday of
Holy Week -- by happy coincidence, the ninth anniversary of his enthronement
as archbishop in Canterbury. Talking with Carey, it becomes clear that in
all roles he fulfills in his office as archbishop, it is his role as pastor
and spiritual teacher that informs the rest.
When asked if he finds inhabiting an ecclesiastical office with a 1,400-year
history a burden, he immediately shakes his head.
"It's honestly not a burden. I look back on the great figures of this post
with an ordinary spirit of prayer and ask them as the communion of saints to
come help and assist me ...," he says. "I am doing this (job) to the best of
my abilities, and it's wonderful to look back and know I'm the 103rd and
that there will be a 104th and even a 150th archbishop of Canterbury. God is
the Lord of the Church."
By his own admission he has good and bad days on the job just like anyone,
but he keeps it in perspective by holding fast to his faith and a daily
discipline of prayer and study. An avid reader, he often keeps several books
on the go at once.
"You've got to believe in God and the power of the Gospel ... so first of
all you must carry on trusting him. Secondly, there is that walk with God,
day by day, the discipline of prayer and also study."
To that end, Carey makes sure that he takes time at the beginning of his day
for quiet reflection. During the entire year 2000, he is keeping first
chapter of Ephesians "open" as he puts it, alongside all his other reading.
"In moments throughout the day, I'm always going back to (Ephesians 1:3),
'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ', almost like a
mantra, even when you're in the middle of a meeting."
Chuckling, he adds, "You can't say it out loud, of course."
Days that could include conducting a baptism in Canterbury in the morning,
leading a teaching session with ordinations candidates in the afternoon and
attending a state dinner at Buckingham Palace in the evening, lead to what
Carey describes as a "ministry of brief encounters."
"That's the cost of leadership - you can't be forever in one place, so you
have to spread yourself thinly but try and maximize your impact wherever you
He says he misses the satisfaction of his days as a parish minister, when he
could see work through to its completion. Carey served local parishes in
North London and Durham. In 38 years of ordained ministry, he also taught at
several colleges, serving one as its principal. He has been a prison
chaplain and continues to serve as chaplain to the Durham Royal Air Force
It may surprise some to hear that this 65-year-old religious leader, author
and teacher started out his life as an office boy with the London
Electricity Board. The eldest of 5 children who grew up in London's East
End, it was Christian friends and experiences in the Royal Air Force that
kindled Carey's spiritual awakening and prompted his decision to seek
Having left school at 15, Carey went back to school to earn a divinity
degree from King's College London in 1962. He went on to receive his
doctorate from St. John's College in Nottingham.
His father, a hospital porter, and his mother were "delighted," "puzzled"
and "intensely supportive" of their eldest son, George when he decided to
enter the ministry. But according to Carey, they were thrilled with whatever
their three sons and two daughters chose to do.
Carey and his wife, Eileen, who later trained as a nurse, first met at
church. She was 14, George was 17. They were married in 1960. The couple
have four children and eight grandchildren. On the day of the interview,
grandchildren were running around the Canterbury Cathedral manse (parsonage)
in stocking feet, to the delight of their grandfather.
Although he is an archbishop to the world, Carey says his grandchildren
remain unfazed by it all. As evidence, he tells of a time when he, his
then-10-year-old grandson, Simon, and 5-year-old David were in the car
driven by the archbishop's chauffeur. David was keen to know why his
grandfather wasn't driving the car himself.
"Simon, being a superior 10 said, 'Don't be silly. It's because Granddad is
too old to drive.' I love it," reports the amused granddad.
Carey is grateful that his children were grown when he was appointed
archbishop. With official residences at both Lambeth Palace in London and
Canterbury Cathedral, and with an international travel schedule that would
take most people's breath away, he and Eileen have opted to tackle the job
as a team, traveling and working together. It's a decision the whole family
What does get to his children is the criticism their father sometimes
receives in the media.
"I mean they get really mad if there is anything savage said about me in the
press," Carey says. "They are very supportive - they are like lions. They
come out and are very, very cross at the press if need be. It doesn't affect
us as much as it does them."
While he is not an Anglican version of the pope, the archbishop has
encountered many of the toughest challenges and divisions facing the church
worldwide. Yet, Carey remains committed to the goal of Christian unity as
both desirable and achievable.
"Unity" talks under way between British Methodists and Anglicans are "very
exciting," he says, and he is committed to moving ahead with the process
cautiously. He acknowledges there are different cultures of church life,
ways of worship, different practices and systems of church government to
consider, but he continues to feel all these things are resolvable if "we
first accept each other as apostolic church."
"The idea of diversity - God's colorful church - is terribly important. I
don't think God wants uniformity. He doesn't want us all to be Roman
Catholic, or Anglican or Methodists. I think He wants to see our diversity
held in a precious unity."
It is in the successes of initiatives such as Jubilee 2000 - a global
campaign aimed at getting world leaders to forgive the debts of impoverished
countries -- where Carey sees actual proof of what churches can do when they
come together in cooperation.
"For me, the thing that shapes my quest for unity is mission ...," he says.
"It is madness to be divided. We do not offer humankind an image of the
gospel while we are divided. ... We must find ways to combine our resources
... use our diversity,
common faith and common gospel. ... That may compel us to look at unity in a
For all his passion and hope for what the unified church can offer to the
world, for Carey, it still comes back to people -- even just one person whom
you sit with, pray with and get to know.
"You've got to know your people and be known by them ...," he says. "(To)
charge ahead blindly into the future and leave your people out, that's not
leadership. ... Know the issues facing the church, know the problems ...
Know the scope of the challenge,
and have the confidence to walk into the future."
# # #
*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.
United Methodist News Service
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