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George Carey - 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury

 "An unassuming but effective Archbishop of Canterbury" - The Times on the announcement of his retirement

An ordinary East Londoner, George Carey's early background was typical of many of his generation. Born in 1935 in the East End of London, the son of a hospital porter, he left school at 15 and began working at the London Electricity Board as an office boy, and also served with the Royal Air Force in Iraq during the fifties.

By the time he was twenty, he had decided he wanted to be ordained as a minister into the Church of England. After graduating from London College of Divinity (ALCD) and King's College London (BD. Hons) he served as a curate in Islington, London. During this time he went on to research the early origins of Christian ministry and earned both M.Th and Ph.D Degrees. He then taught at two Colleges before becoming a parish priest at St.Nicholas' Durham.

This was a formative experience for him, taking charge of a church in the centre of Durham which became the hub of a thriving ministry. He oversaw extensive reordering - replacing the traditional layout for more flexible furniture and establishing a ministry team.

In 1982 he became Principal of Trinity Theological College in Bristol and, in 1987, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

In 1991 he was invited to take up the post of 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury. He came to a church faced with the challenge of the ordination of women to the priesthood and steered the church successfully through the difficult period of adjustment as the first women were ordained. In what was a painful period for the church, he established the means by which many clergy, people and parishes dissenting from the decision could remain within the church through bishops appointed especially to look after them.

His time also saw harsh economic realities becoming clear. After a headline story about the significant loss of value of the Church Commissioners investment holdings, he initiated a review of the churches structures and governance which resulted in the formation of the Archbishop's Council, a new senior body bringing together policy and finance. 

He took very seriously his responsibilities in the Anglican Communion, as head of 70 million Anglicans worldwide, travelling extensively throughout the provinces. Notably, he paid a harrowing trip to Rwanda in 1994 in the aftermath of the genocide and upset his hosts in Sudan on a subsequent visit, resulting in the expulsion of the British Ambassador. He hosted the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the first to which women bishops were invited.

He took a major lead on interfaith matters, bringing faith leaders from the UK at times of crisis and opportunity. He established the first of the Building Bridges seminars, which bring together Christian and Muslim scholars in dialogue. In the Middle East he established the Alexandria Process, which brought together religious leaders from Jerusalem and the Holy Land to agree common principles aimed at preventing the region's religious sensibilities being exploited during conflicts.  

In England his time saw notable national events: he took part in the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, led worship for the nation in the Dome for the new Millennium; quoted St John's Gospel - 'the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it' at the Service commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attacks; led the tributes at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2001 and preached memorably at Golden Jubilee of the Queen in 2002 on the theme 'You have reigned with our Love'.

He retired in 2002 at the age of 66 and was made a life peer, taking the title Lord Carey of Clifton, reflecting appreciation of his time as Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Detailed biography

George Leonard Carey (1935 - )
The Rt Revd & Rt Hon. The Lord Carey of Clifton (created life peer 2002)

born 13.11.1935 East London. Son of George Carey hospital porter; Bifrons Secondary Modern School Barking (left aged 15). National Service (RAF Wireless Operator) 1954-1956. He studied first at London College of Divinity and then at Kings College London BD1962 MTh1965 PhD1971.

m.1960 Eileen (Harmsworth Hood), nurse. children 2 sons, 2 daughters.


Ordained deacon in 1962 and priest in 1963 by the Bishop of London. Curate of Islington St Mary 1962-1966; Lecturer at Oak Hill Theological College from 1966-1970; Lecturer at St Johns College Nottingham from 1970-1975; Vicar of Durham St Nicholas 1975-1982; Chaplain HM Remand Centre Low Newton 1977-1981; Principal of Trinity College Bristol from 1982-1987; Honorary Canon of Bristol Cathedral from 1984-1987;

Consecrated Bishop in Southwark Cathedral in 1987; Bishop of Bath & Wells 1987; Chairman Faith & Order Advisory Group ? - 1987-1991; Archbishop of Canterbury 1991-2002; retired in 2002 aged 66; having served more than 11 years in post,

His time as Archbishop coincided with » Elizabeth II 1952- » Prime Ministers » J Major Con 1990-97 » Tony Blair Lab 1997 - » Popes » John Paul II 1978 - » Archbishops of York » John Habgood 1983-95 » David Hope 1995- »

Awarded the Royal Victorian Chain 2002; Privy Councillor from 1991; Fellow of Kings Coll London from 1993.


I Believe in Man 1975;

God Incarnate 1979;

The Meeting of the Waters 1985;

The Gate of Glory 1986;

The Message of the Bible 1988;

The Great God Robbery 1989;

I Believe 1991;

Sharing a Vision 1993;

Spiritual Journey 1994;

My Journey, Your Journey 1996;

Canterbury - Letters to the Future 1998;

Jesus 2000 1999;


The Great Acquittal 1976;

Planting New Churches 1991;


1st Archbishop openly to support Arsenal FC; 1st Archbishop of Canterbury to ordain women to the priesthood; 1st Archbishop to host Lambeth Conference to which women Bishops were invited;

Research: Steve Empson and Jenny Childs