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 Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 15:56 GMT
The people's Archbishop
Dr George Carey at a prayer meeting
The 66-year-old's reign has been difficult at times
From humble working class origins George Carey rose to become the most senior bishop in the Church of England.

Chosen a decade ago to be the Archbishop of Canterbury by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, this was a job Dr Carey once said he would not wish on his worst enemy.

Love ... small enough to nestle in the human heart, yet great enough to move the sun and all the stars

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey's new year message
The 66-year-old grew up in the East End of London, the son of porter.

After failing his 11-plus he left school at 15, and began working at the London Electricity Board as an office boy.

He said he was converted to religion when at 17 he went to church with his friends.

"I had a conversion experience which was very real. But it wasn't a Paul/Saul of Damascus experience. There were no blinding lights, simply a quiet conviction I had found something," he said.

By the time he was 20, he had decided he wanted to be ordained.

Within 15 months he passed three A-levels and six O-levels, and won a place at Kings College, London.

He also served with the British armed forces in Iraq in the 1950s.

Evolutionary change

When he became the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury in 1991, he was the first not to have attended Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Dr George Carey's Christmas sermon
Dr Carey has been Archbishop of Canterbury since 1991
When asked by one interviewer whether he found it ironic that someone from his background had become such an important part of the establishment, he replied:

"I have always been an evolutionist rather than a revolutionist.

"You change systems from within, rather than by overthrowing them.

As Archbishop of Canterbury he has a seat in the House of Lords and, with the Archbishop of York is joint president of the General Synod, the Church of England's governing body.

Ordination of women

His ten year reign as the head of the Anglican church has been at times a difficult one.

He won a reputation for liberalism when he supported the ordination of women.

And he incited the wrath of Rome by his remark that opponents to women's ordination were heretics.

But he gained a more conservative reputation during the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in 1998 which took a hard line against the practice of homosexuality among priests.

New York
Dr Carey has called for justice and tolerance post 11 September
More recently, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, he has supported military force in Afghanistan but said that it has nothing to do with religion.

On a visit to a mosque in Shoreditch, east London in October, he called for a "deeper dialogue between Christian and Muslim leaders in the UK."

A month later in an interview for Arabic television he urged Muslims not to view military action in Afghanistan as a war on Islam.

In this year's Christmas sermon he called for a stronger commitment to justice and tolerance in the wake of the attacks.

And in his new year message he said love had the power to help people get through their darkest moments.

Congregation trebled

Before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, he worked as a parish priest at an evangelical church in Durham. Within two years, he had trebled the congregation.

It was this kind of achievement that led to his appointment as a bishop at Bath and Wells.

Under the normal rules for archbishops, he could choose to remain in the post until his 70th birthday, in 2005.

But last year it was reported he was considering retiring until the Queen asked him to delay it until at least 2003 so he could oversee the spiritual side of her Golden Jubilee celebrations.

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21 Dec 97 | UK
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