By Douglas LeBlanc

When the new dean and president of Nashotah House Theological Seminary asked the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury if he would visit the campus in October, George L. Carey thought he was speaking of 2012. The lead time was only about three weeks, but when the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., calls, Lord Carey of Clifton listens. After checking his diary, the archbishop agreed to participate in Bishop Salmon’s installation service and to visit seminarians in their classes.

The archbishop spoke with The Living Church in Dean Salmon’s Lewis Hall office on the cool fall morning of October 27. A few hours later he gathered for lunch with clergy from throughout Wisconsin and several bishops from across the country, followed by a discussion in which he encouraged clergy to ask questions on any topic. In both settings he was relaxed, jovial, and direct with his thoughts — including his decades-long activism for suffering Christians in Africa and Asia, his admiration for rock singer and activist Bono of U2, and his encouraging words for clergy who wonder if their work is for naught.

When introducing his friend at lunch, Bishop Salmon referred to him as Archbishop Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury who taught at Nashotah in his retirement years. The gathered clergy chuckled as Carey asked board members if they were certain they wanted to call Salmon as the school’s dean and president. Salmon drew more chuckles when he said his friend was “meddling in my business.” Carey told TLC he met Salmon in 1991, when he visited the United States as a guest of the Very Rev. Paul F.M. Zahl and his wife, Mary. The Zahls introduced Carey to Salmon, then serving as the 13th Bishop of South Carolina (1990-2008). “We bonded immediately,” Carey said.

The archbishop credits Eileen, his wife of 51 years who has worked as a nurse, with heightening his awareness of humanitarian causes.

“She has been a magnificent element,” he said. “She is solid. She is a rock. There’s a saying that half the clergy are undone by their wives and the other half are made by their wives. I belong to the other half.”

After their visit to Nashotah House, the Careys would take a railroad holiday in India and then spend two weeks visiting Anglicans in Burma, at the request of Archbishop Rowan Williams. Carey said he would meet with human-rights activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during the visit.

“It is really a suffering church,” Carey said, but “there does seem to be thawing of the hardline that has been taken” in previous years. “The rest of the world is waiting for Burma to rejoin the rest of the global family.”

The archbishop understands such visits as another form of diplomacy, citing the essay collection Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (Oxford, 1995) as a helpful guide to the high-wire challenge.

It is a form of statecraft he practiced with some frequency during his tenure in Lambeth Palace (1991-2002). Carey recalls meeting in May 1995 with Archbishop Augustin Nshamihigo, who was complicit in the ethnic genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s. Carey said he told the Rwandan archbishop that he must return from Kenya, where he had fled during the genocide, to his people in Rwanda. That would lead to his certain death, Nshamihigo said. Saying that a shepherd functioning apart from the flock is nonsensical, Carey urged Nshamihigo to resign. Nshamihigo resigned within a few weeks.

“One of my students at [Trinity Theological College] Bristol, Alphonse was his name, was the dean at Kigali,” Carey said. “They never found his body.”

Carey also looks back fondly on a covert flight into Sudan in 1993. On Christmas Eve, Carey said, officials in Khartoum invited him to visit the nation as the government’s guest. Concerned that the regime would exploit his presence for its own purposes, Carey declined the invitation. The government said it would cancel his visa and not welcome him into the country under different circumstances. Carey entered Sudan on a private jet piloted by a South African woman. Thousands of Sudanese Christians greeted him during the visit. “It was the most thrilling moment of my life,” he said.

Carey was heartbroken by the deep poverty he encountered in Sudan, but also moved by the humanitarian ministries of Mothers’ Union members. Today, he said, the church is helping rebuild South Sudan’s infrastructure, which was destroyed by the protracted conflict with Khartoum’s military forces.

It is no accident, Carey said, that the suffering church is growing. “We’re imploding and they’re exploding,” he said in comparing Western Christians with those who face genuine persecution. “There’s a great deal of respect and affection for the Church in Britain, but we are one of many leisurely options.”

Concerned about the Church’s alienation in Britain, the archbishop has written a book, We Don’t Do God: The Marginalisation of Public Faith, with one of his sons, Andrew, a longtime reporter and columnist for The Church of England Newspaper. The book, which draws its title from the offhand remark by Tony Blair’s public-relations adviser, Alistair Campbell, will be published in January. It will help Christians stand up for their faith with confidence amid the onslaught of the New Atheists, for whom Carey has little respect.

While addressing clergy at Nashotah, Carey apologized, as a Briton, for the reverse crusades of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins knows precious little about Christian theology, the archbishop said. “If you look at The God Delusion most of it is bunkum, but he gets away with it because that’s what most people believe.”

The archbishop continues his work with the poor through Tear Fund, a Christian charity based in the United Kingdom, and the World Faiths Development Dialogue. Through the dialogue project, the archbishop has come to know Bono. In August 1993, during a concert at Wembley Stadium in London, Bono called Lambeth Palace in the diabolical character of MacPhisto. The operator who answered said the archbishop was in the United States.

Had the archbishop been at home that night, “I would have answered it, because I’m a great fan of Bono,” he said. “I’d love to see that man ordained. He would be wonderful.”

The archbishop said divisions among Anglicans can be heightened by the vast geographical distances in the United States. “In Britain, it’s impossible for people who are divided on something to avoid one another,” he said.

As an example of how Anglicans can work together across their differences, he cited the friendship between Bishop Salmon and John B. Chane, Bishop of Washington, who agreed to Carey’s request to serve at All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, Md. That unusual arrangement began with Carey’s plan to work at the Library of Congress for two years. That plan fell through, but he still visited All Saints several times a year. Carey began serving when the Rev. Al Zadig was rector at All Saints. When Zadig returned to ministry in the Diocese of South Carolina, Bishop Salmon became the rector of All Saints.

Carey knows that the enormities of the Anglican Communion can wear on priests. His advice: “Don’t spend all your time worrying about the wider issues. Don’t look at the huge picture. Look at the picture you have. You are the rector here. Spend your time on that and don’t go darting about trying to solve national issues. Teach the Scriptures and be proud of our church.”