George Carey, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Appointed New Archbishop of Canterbury

Episcopal News Service. August 7, 1990 [90187]

At morning tea on July 25, during the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting near Cardiff, Wales, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie announced that Queen Elizabeth II had just officially appointed Dr. George Carey to succeed him when he retires next January 31. The anticipated date for enthronement of the new archbishop is late April 1991 in conjunction with a meeting of the Anglican Primates in Ireland.

The appointment came as a surprise to many who were following the nomination process. In his prepared statement, Runcie said the appointment was "imaginative," and said Carey is the kind of teacher and theologian "particularly qualified to lead the church in a Decade of Evangelism."

Runcie added that Carey "has quickly won all-around support in his diocese. He commands respect and affection among us all in the House of Bishops. His broad sympathies have prepared him for the major part he plays in our church's ecumenical relations."

In a news conference immediately following the announcement, Carey said that he felt "dazed and unworthy" over the appointment, although he denied that he was a compromise choice. "I have never been a compromise person," he added; "I hope it was on the basis of what I have to offer that I was chosen."

Some observers were surprised because Carey was not mentioned on the lists of possible choices circulating in the press. At 54 years of age, Carey is also considered comparatively young for such an appointment -- and he has been bishop of Bath and Wells only since 1987.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, who was attending the ACC meeting in Wales at the time of the announcement, said, "Although I do not know Bishop Carey, everything I have heard about him since the announcement has been positive and inspiring. It sounds to me like he has a gift for reconciliation and progressive pastoral leadership, which certainly will build on the wonderful years with Archbishop Runcie."

"George who?"

In the days following the announcement everyone scrambled to answer the question, "George who?" The Rev. Colin Craston, a member of the commission that sifted through candidates and presented final candidates to the prime minister and queen, said that "Carey is firmly in the evangelical tradition, but also has the confidence of Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England." Craston said that the archbishop-elect is "a very effective teacher and a powerful preacher" with outstanding pastoral qualities.

"I did not encounter living Christianity until I was 17, when I went along to the local Anglican church, found the worship appallingly boring but the fellowship and preaching riveting," Carey said in a recent interview. "There I found Christ -- or should I say, he found me."

"The church is not in a terminal state of decline and death -- that is absolute rubbish," Carey said at the July 26 news conference. "Only people who know very little of it make statements like that."

Yet Carey has suggested that often the church "seems light years away" from the kind of people he grew up with. "I and my colleagues want to reassure them that the Church of England is for them," he said.

Carey is often described as a man with the ability to be open to contrasting opinions on matters of doctrine and politics. In his early press statements Carey tried to avoid labels. He admitted his indebtedness to both the evangelical and charismatic influences in his life. He is interested in ecumenical relations, especially with the Roman Catholic Church, a position that has set him apart from some hard-line evangelicals who oppose any rapprochement with Rome.

Carey has also parted company with many conservatives in the Church of England with his strong support of the ordination of women to the priesthood. "The ordination of women is obviously one thing that I hope we will settle as a church," said Carey in the July 26 press conference. In the past he has suggested that priests who cannot accept the ordination of women might be asked to resign.

On the issue of homosexuality, Carey has said that he would uphold the tradition of the church on the matter, making a distinction between homosexual orientation and practice. Although he has said that he prefers not to speak in terms of excommunication or penalty, he reiterated that the General Synod of the Church of England has spoken against the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

Since Carey will soon have an important voice on the English political scene, many observers were speculating whether he would repeat the stormy relationship that exists between the Thatcher government and Archbishop Runcie. "He is not a Thatcherite..." said Clifford Longley, religious affairs editor of The Times of London, in an interview.

As a future member of the British House of Lords, Carey has indicated that he will continue to press for better living conditions for the elderly and the homeless. "They are deeply important to me," he said after his appointment. "It is part and parcel of the commitment we all have in the church that Christian faith has social and political implications."

Carey is deeply committed to the ecological movement in England and recently received much media attention with an assertion that "God is green."

A "rags to purple" story

In what is being called a "rags to purple" story, Carey has a personal background considered unusual for one who will become the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury.

Carey was born in London's tough East End, the son of a hospital porter. He dropped out of school at age 15 and worked as an office boy with the London Electricity Board until he entered the Royal Air Force. After national service, he decided to seek ordination and studied at King's College, University of London, eventually receiving his Ph.D. degree in 1971.

Carey was a curate for four years at St. Mary's Church, Islington, lectured in theology in Oak Hill Theological College, and was then chaplain at St. John's College, Nottingham.

From 1975 to 1982, Carey was vicar of St. Nicholas's Church, Durham, where he led the parish through a period of expansion and renewal. While in Durham, he wrote a book, The Church in the Market Place, one of eight he has written. The book was very popular and is credited with inspiring other urban parishes in their mission.

In 1982 he was appointed principal of Trinity College, Bristol, until his consecration as bishop of Bath and Wells.

Carey's wife, Eileen, 51, is a nurse who works part-time in a nursing home. The Careys have four children and two grandchildren.

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