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Welsh vote for sweeping reforms

THE REFORMS in the Church in Wales are gathering pace. At the meeting of the Governing Body held at Lampeter last week, further important steps were taken to make it a "leaner, keener Church".

In response to falling numbers and five years of deficit, the members agreed to radical changes in financial structures, shifting more responsibility to the dioceses, and accepting the need for smaller clergy numbers.

Meanwhile, the membership of the Representative Body (RB), the corporation that handles the finances, is to be reduced from 74 to 20, and membership of the Governing Body (GB) from 350 to 144. These proposals now go to the dioceses "for discussion", and it is intended that the GB should vote on the final resolutions next April.

The agenda opened with a presidential address by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan. After outlining the problems faced by the Lambeth Commission, he turned to the Church in Wales. "The problems we face should be fairly easy to solve against the background of everything else I have said so far." There was no doubt, he said, that the Church faced more changes than it had done since disestablishment.

But they were necessary because "the Church in Wales has been more financially cushioned over the years than any other province in the whole of the Anglican Communion. Most of the costs of running our Church have, to date, been borne by central church funds financed by benefactions of the past. . . We have to take financial responsibility for running this Church."

Too often, he said, the Church had voted in principle, and then pulled back from action. "We have a track record of saying we approve of a whole host of things in theory, but when it comes to turning theory into practice, we lose our nerve. . . It is make-up-your-mind time for the Church in Wales. I hope we will not be found wanting."

The debate on the RB report was opened by its chairman, Sir David Rowe-Beddoe, who said that the Church had been spending more than its income for five years, eroding reserves. The RB’s main responsibility was the clergy pension fund, still based on a final-salary scheme, currently 60 per cent of final stipend, but to be reduced to 50 per cent for new clergy.

It also had the burden of an increasing number of redundant churches. Its subsidy of stipends, running at 28 per cent, would have to be phased out. Instead of all the ring-fenced grants the RB currently made to dioceses for clergy benefits, training, property and the cathedrals, from 2007 it would give a single block grant, and the dioceses would become responsible for almost all their own financial management.

The Archdeacon of Wrexham, the Ven. Malcolm Squires, said the report did not go far enough. It was said that parsonages were one of the Church’s greatest assets, valued at £250 million overall. When redundant parsonages were sold, the proceeds went to fund redundant church buildings, which were the Church’s greatest liability, cancelling out that asset. "If the state or Cadw [the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage] are so keen on keeping redundant churches standing, they must accept the consequences," and pay for them. The Church needed to have "a vigorous confrontation with them, not just polite lobbying". Meanwhile, the parsonages should be "denationalised", and returned to the ownership of the parishes, which had al-ways maintained them.

Canon Joseph Griffin (Swansea & Brecon) suggested it was very necessary to ring-fence the pension fund. It was not protected, and if the Church was faced with some costly litigation, it would have no choice but to comply with the judgment handed down by the court, which could bankrupt it. "We must be alive to the litigious nature of society today," he said.

Roger Waterfield (St Asaph) said that the Church was in the front line of social service, and its contribution was recognised. Most other NGOs were supported by the Government: could not the Church expect the same? In many other countries, the state supported all church buildings.

Nigel King (Swansea & Brecon) thought the report was over-influenced by the pessimism of actuaries. To extrapolate from their forecasts, the Church could finish up with "plenty of clergy and church buildings, but only two people left on the electoral roll, needing to give £50 million each". The Church needed some action plans for extending the Kingdom.

Canon Robert Paterson, principal officer of the Council for Mission and Ministry, agreed that the Church needed a strategic view of the future for the nation’s sake.

Canon Stuart Bell (St Davids) asked: "Where do we go to get the £50 million the Church actually needs? We don’t need fewer clergy, but more evangelists. If members of the Governing Body now pledged a million pounds between them in one day, it would set an example to the whole Church." He was sure the members present could each give £1000, the richer ones £10,000.

The Dean of St Davids, the Very Revd Wyn Evans, was concerned at the proposal that the financing of cathedrals should come out of the block grant to dioceses. Cathedrals had a special role as the mother churches of their dioceses, and showcases of the Church in Wales. They should continue to be funded centrally by the RB.

The Dean of Brecon, the Very Revd John Davies, agreed with him. Cathedrals needed the resources to do their job properly. All sorts of people came through their doors searching for sacred space, he said. Cathedrals had to cater for visitors, their communities and the diocese.

The GB voted unanimously to commend the report to the dioceses, and invited the RB to bring forward final resolutions in April 2005.

LATER in the session, the GB turned its attention to the review of its own structures, introduced by His Hon. Michael Evans QC. The result of a straw poll at the GB’s meeting last April, he said, had chimed with the standing committee’s own views that the best of five options put before the GB was to reduce the membership from 350 to 144. That number would maintain the principles of the same number of representatives from each of the six dioceses, regardless of size, always having twice as many laity as clergy elected from each diocese, and the co-options in the same proportion.

There would be just one archdeacon from each diocese, and only thee deans, plus the bishops and ex-officio members. This meant a 60-per-cent reduction in size, reflecting the 50-per-cent fall in church membership since the GB was last reduced in the 1970s.

This, it was estimated, would save up to £40,000 a year in costs, and would give greater flexibility in the choice of meeting places. Judge Evans said he knew the deans objected to the reduction of their numbers, but it would always be possible to invite one with a special interest to address the GB.

The Revd Colin Amos (Llandaff) argued for an amendment to choose another option, narrowly defeated last April, which would have given the GB 207 members.

The Revd Peter Williams (Swansea & Brecon) agreed with him that the proposal before the GB was "draconian". He wanted to allow for an increased number of young members under 30.

Sir Trefor Morris (Monmouth) could not agree. He suggested the reduction to 144 could be a catalyst for further change.

The Revd Marian Dowsett (Monmouth) said she would only vote for the 144 option if members unable to attend could send substitutes.

The Dean of Brecon, the Very Revd John Davies, suggested that the GB could vote for the larger number and make a further reduction at a later stage.

Roger Waterfield (St Asaph) was concerned that such a small number from each diocese could mean that rural areas were under-represented.

The Bishop of St Davids, the Rt Revd Carl Cooper, said that effective representation was not determined by the number of people one could cram into a building. He didn’t know of any other body where one needed more than 100 people to make decisions. If members wanted "a leaner, keener Church for the 21st-century", they must oppose the amendment.

The Archbishop agreed with him. If 60 members of the Welsh Assembly were considered enough to govern Wales, he said, 144 members of the GB were more than enough to govern the Church in Wales.

The amendment to increase membership to 207 was defeated 79 to 113. The Governing Body voted overwhelmingly for the proposed reductions, and for the phased timetable of elections that will see the numbers fully reduced by April 2008.

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