Former Archbishop of Canterbury visits the mountainsSpecial to The Mountaineer
His formal title is The Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. The Lord George Carey of Clifton, but the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury said he said he and his wife prefer to be known as George and Eileen.
It is this “unstuffy” attitude and forthright demeanor that make Lord Carey a delightful conversationalist. During his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to retirement in 2002, he met with world leaders, royalty and popes — and saw the Anglican Church make a big step into the modern world by ordaining women to the priesthood.
But how did this dignitary wind up in the mountains of Waynesville? In 1990, he attended the World Council of Churches, and met, among the religious leaders gathered, the Rev. Dan and Deener Matthews. Carey and his wife, Eileen, became friends with the Matthews and the friendship has grown over the years.
The Matthews own, designed and built The Swag, a remarkable mountaintop inn at 5,000 ft. in Waynesville, bordering along side the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Carey said he and his family have been guests at The Swag four to five times, and he finds the mountains “very healing.”
This trip, the Careys started in Charleston, had a family holiday at The Swag, then set out for Columbia, South Carolina, where Carey is giving several talks, later going to Kanuga, the Episcopal retreat center in Henderson County to help with fundraising, and finally winding up in Canada.
“There is ‘retirement’ and then there is retirement,” Carey said with a smile.
Not only does he keep extremely busy with speaking engagements and world travel, he is a social activist as president of United Learning, a group of schools in the U.K. that works to improve the life chances of students by providing a top-notch education and motivation to succeed in life.
During his time as archbishop, Carey was the first to ordain women to the Anglican priesthood. While he was “very pleased to do this,” it was not without controversy.
“It was a bumpy period,” Carey said about the reaction to the first women priests. The next step he hopes to see is the ordination of women bishops.
Carey is careful, however, to point out that he is the former archbishop, not the current head of the Anglican Church, he doesn’t want to interfere in church matters.
One issue he is outspoken about is same-sex marriage.
“I’m a traditionalist disapproving of practicing homosexuality,” he said. “Yes, civil partnerships exist. I don’t think these partnerships are ‘marriage’ — it’s a distortion of language.”
But, Carey is a compassionate person.
“We are living in changed times — and changed culture does affect the church,” he said. “We Christians need to be loving and understanding. We can’t be disapproving.”
He has strong opinions on Syria and the crisis in the Middle East.
“We need to stay out of this completely,” Carey said. “In the West, we don’t understand the Muslim culture. All these countries find democracy difficult to understand. We need to challenge Muslims saying, ‘you have the wealth, get in there and sort it out.’”
Carey does not feel any good will come out of America getting involved in Syria with military action.
“President Obama’s desire to take military action comes from the heart,” Carey said. “He’s a great man, but he’s wrong on this issue. Whatever he does must be targeted.”
Carey has great interest in inter-faith work. He calls Pope John Paul II “a great hero and spiritual leader,” and had the opportunity to meet with him while serving as Archbishop of Canterbury. Carey met the now Pope Francis years ago while in Argentina.
“Francis is a very humble man, quite modern, honest and a very good man making waves,” Carey said of the new pope.
As to the future of getting Christian faiths closer together, Carey said the Anglican Church (Episcopal Church in the U.S.) and American Catholics share very similar services and have close ties. But, he said there are two impediments in the two denominations being in full communion — the ordination of women and the celibacy issues facing the Catholic Church.
Carey’s concerns also turn to worldly issues and the future — “what we are handing to the next generations.”
He feels that when faith diminishes, “there are no concrete universal values.”
“I’m proud of being a Christian,” Carey said. “The Christian faith has enriched the U.K and the U.S. We need to challenge Christian churches to use their power to present Christ.”
Carey reminds people in Western North Carolina that we are “fortunate to live in a lovely place.” The mountains give him time to “think about God and how finite we are.”
Lord and Lady Carey said they thoroughly enjoyed their stay at The Swag and give credit to the Matthews for taking on the project of developing the Swag property “to such a high quality mountain top retreat.”
“The Swag is magnificent,” said Lord Carey.
He then turned his attention to his wife, and the picnic lunch they had prepared by The Swag. “We’re going on a little ramble.”