Quoting H. L. Mencken, the archbishop of Canterbury warned the nation's Episcopal bishops in Baltimore yesterday not to take themselves too seriously.
On his first official visit to the United States as spiritual leader of the 29 Anglican churches of the world, Archbishop George L. Carey said, "We often take ourselves far too seriously. We are merely servants of the living God."
He drew laughter when he quoted Mencken's satirical definition of an archbishop: "a Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to Christ."
At the same time, the archbishop told the nearly 200 bishops meeting at the Inner Harbor's Hyatt Regency Hotel that they must take the guiding and teaching functions of their office very seriously indeed.
"Episcopal authority is not given so that we might dispense answers to every question," he said. "But it is given so that you and I might direct people to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and life itself."
In saying that, he touched on an issue that has divided many bishops and other leaders of the Episcopal Church: the extent to which its beliefs should be defined and stated authoritatively as biblical truth.
At a conference of traditionalist Episcopal clergy and laity at downtown Baltimore's Old St. Paul's Church immediately preceding the bishops' meeting, the Rev. David B. Collins, a recent president of one of the denomination's two governing bodies, said, "To me, the greatest shame of the Episcopal Church, and the reason our proclamation of the Gospel appears muted at best, is precisely the lack of intensity of faith. If the church lacks intensity, it means there is no faith there."
Father Collins was stating the underlying concerns of a local group of Episcopal priests who issued last year what was called the Baltimore Declaration. It drew criticism in some Episcopal quarters for stating categorically that Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth and the life."
Archbishop Carey was asked by one of the U.S. bishops yesterday about the extent to which Episcopalians should evangelize, specifically among Muslims.
"We should not be coy about our Gospel," he replied. "Preaching the Gospel is a mandate. Other faiths respect our integrity. Let us come to terms with the reality. There is very much a marketplace of religions."
At a news conference later, Archbishop Carey was asked for words of guidance for a prominent Episcopalian, President Bush. Expressing "great admiration" for the president and support for Barbara Bush's recent comments about family values, the archbishop said he hoped that whoever wins the presidential election will maintain the U.S. role "as the only superpower left."
Archbishop Carey declined to comment on the controversy in England over the extramarital affairs of members of the royal family.
"I have a very special and privileged relationship with the royal family," he said.
It was Queen Elizabeth II, in her role as head of the Church of England, who appointed Archbishop Carey to his office in 1990.
Last night, Maryland Bishop A. Theodore Eastman was host at a reception and dinner for the archbishop and his wife, Eileen Carey, at the Episcopal diocesan center on University Parkway, to which local leaders of other denominations were invited.
CAREY TO PREACH
The Archbishop of Canterbury, George L. Carey, will preach at a service open to the public at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, North Charles Street and Melrose Avenue. The celebrant will be the presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning. The church doors will open at 9:30 a.m., and admission is first-come, first-served. The church seats about 800.