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Sunday, December 21, 1997 Published at 05:19 GMT


George Carey: an archbishop of the people

George Carey grew up in the East End of London in a working class family. After failing his 11-plus he left school at 15, and began working at the London Electricity Board as an office boy.

He found God when he was 17 in 1951, after accompanying some of his friends to the local church. "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. He returned to his studies, and within 15 months he passed three A-levels and six O-levels, and won a place at Kings College, London.

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Since his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in March 1991, he has been criticised by both the media and the church for his liberalism. He is best known for supporting the ordination of women. He incited the wrath of Rome by his remark that opponents to women's ordination were heretics.

In addition to addressing Sunday shoppers in Asda, he has hit the headlines this year by being the first archbishop to address the Trades Union Congress. At Brighton in September, he said employers had a "moral responsibility" to recognise unions.

Archbishop Carey is the first Archbishop of Canterbury not to have attended Oxford or Cambridge universities. 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. My experience of the establishment has made me realise there are traditions in our society we must continue to honour and respect."

Before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, he worked for a time 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.

Less than three years later, Mrs Thatcher chose him as Archbishop of Canterbury. It was a job he once said he would not wish on his worst enemy.

The Institution of the Archbishop

George Carey is the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury. The first was St. Augustine, who was sent from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great in 596AD to re-establish the Church in England.

The pope had ordered that the island of Britain should be organised into two Provinces, one around London in the south and the second in York. But it was finally Canterbury, rather than London, that became the base for the Southern Province.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior bishop in the Church of England, and is the person who crowns the monarch.

Bishops used to be the monarch's closest advisors, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the 24 other most senior bishops still have seats in the House of Lords.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are joint presidents of the General Synod, the Church of England's governing body.

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