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Archbishop of Canterbury Set to Begin 1st Visit to L.A.

Primate: Head of Church of England says he will bring a message of activism, innovation and outreach. He adds he is intrigued by the city's multicultural, multiethnic makeup.

May 18, 1996|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — George Carey declared himself "dazed and unworthy" when named to his job and he sometimes describes his life as "from rags to purple." But when the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury arrives in Los Angeles next week, he comes with a confident sense of mission for his own Church of England and its American partners.

The 60-year-old primate, guest of honor at centennial celebrations of the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese on May 26, will carry a message of outreach, innovation and activism, he made plain in an interview at his headquarters in Lambeth Palace here.

"Christianity which is not rooted in real life is not Christianity," he said. "It must be incarnated in action and transforming injustice wherever it is found. It should not be only about transforming individuals or changing churches, but about deepening and transforming every aspect of life."

Carey's visit will be his first to Los Angeles, a city that he says he has only "a TV image as a fast, moving, exciting place that comes to life after midnight." He is intrigued by the multiethnic, multicultural fabric of Los Angeles, which mirrors major British cities.

"I think we have to keep faith with every culture. . . . We've got to find new ways of being a church, especially in the urban situation," said Carey, his bishop's cross arching across a trademark purple shirt. "The danger facing mainstream faiths is that we come with a kind of boilerplate or template attitude to people. 'Here we are, you've got to fit our boilerplate.' "

The Church of England is the official church of Britain, headed by Queen Elizabeth. Bishops are appointed in her name by British prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher in Carey's case.

As archbishop of Canterbury, the precisely spoken father of four is spiritual head of both the British church and of the Anglican Communion, with 70 million members in 164 countries, including 85,000 Episcopalians in 148 congregations around Los Angeles.

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A key unifying figure for his faith, Carey is first among equals of the primates of other Anglican churches but has no say in their affairs. On issues like the ordination of female priests and bishops and the ordination of homosexual priests, other Anglican communities have moved further and faster than in Britain.

"The Anglican Communion is a family of churches. I'm not a papal figure," Carey said. Besides, he adds, "I'm not that kind of person. I'm not going to pontificate, but to bring a message of encouragement to Episcopalians. I expect to listen and learn."

Carey added, "I hope I might be able to take a challenge to the church: Don't be too comfortable a church. Don't hide yourself away from where people are hurting and grieving and where they are poor."

The son of a hospital porter who was raised in the tough East End of London, George Leonard Carey remembers bathing in a tin tub before a coal fire and sharing a pair of shoes with his brother. He left school at age 15 to work as an office boy, became a Christian at 17 and did his national service as a radio operator in the Royal Air Force.

He studied at the London College of Divinity and won his doctorate with a thesis on 2nd century ecclesiology. As bishop of Bath and Wells, he was a bookmakers' longshot at 23-1 in July 1990 when Thatcher sought a successor for retiring Robert A. K. Runcie. She picked the dazed Carey, who likes thrillers and soccer (North London squad Arsenal is his passion), is intrigued by baseball and would as soon share a pint of beer as a sherry, thank you.

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When appointed, Carey complained that the church seemed "light years away from people like the ones I grew up with." His idea of keeping in touch is apparent in a $40-million fund raised by Anglicans and other religious communities that has underwritten about 800 self-help projects in inner cities. "These projects are helping local people to take control of their future," he said. "The church is at its best when it identifies with the poor, the excluded."

Under Carey, the Church of England agreed to ordain female priests in 1992, but some bishops still refuse to do so. And as he prepares for a trip that will take him to Bermuda and Chicago before Los Angeles, his church is making headlines here over the issue of homosexuality.

Carey's predecessor, now Lord Runcie, told a radio interviewer this week that he ordained practicing homosexuals, contrary to the guidelines of the church's House of Bishops. He never ordained men who were openly involved in gay relationships, Runcie said, but operated under a policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

For his part, Carey says he supports the church teaching that says that faithfulness in marriage and celibacy are the two acceptable lifestyles for members of the Anglican clergy.

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