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Welsh look to future after 90 years of disestablishment

21 April 2010

Margaret Duggan attends the Church in Wales Governing Body meeting

IT IS 90 years since the Church in Wales was disestablished. It was an appropriate moment, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, told the Church’s Governing Body in Lampeter last week, to think about the Church’s future.

An aim of disestablishment had been to weaken the Anglican Church’s influence, Dr Morgan said in his presidential address. “Back then [in 1920], it was regarded as something of a blow; for every single senior cleric fought tooth and nail to prevent it, arguing that it would destroy An­glicanism in Wales. And what hap­pened? After the initial shock, we got on with the task entrusted to any Church in any country of continuing to offer worship to God and of serving the needs of the communities of Wales.”

Over the years, he said, the Church in Wales had acquired a new sense of national standing at times of tragedy such as Aberfan, acting as a guardian of the nation’s conscience during the miners’ strike in the 1980s, and work­ing for the preservation of the Welsh language. “And it was with pride that we saw the elevation of my prede­cessor [Dr Rowan Williams] to the throne of Augustine just seven years ago.”

Over the past 90 years, the Church in Wales had become a distinctive Church and province. It had 1400 places of worship, 29 per cent Grade-I listed, and extensive social-work and community involvement. The 165 church schools were open to children of every denomination and faith.

So, with a presence in every com­munity, the Church had a chance to describe a new role for itself in a changing society, and to show that Christianity was more relevant than ever.

“We are a Church that believes that everyone is valued by God, regardless of their sex, race, or gender. We have a chance to show that life is not about how much money we earn or how many exams we pass, but who we are and how we treat those around us — how we can become more fulfilled people, more understanding parents, more attentive neighbours, more caring communities, more outward-looking societies.

“We have the opportunity to show how we are all responsible for God’s planet and to be at the forefront of protecting it.”

The Archbishop talked of greater engagement in public life; encour­aging the clergy to take bold initi­atives; accepting all, including women and gay people, un­con­ditionally; using buildings to greater advantage; and resolving some of the Church’s internal issues.

“We were among the first of the Anglican provinces to ordain women as deacons in 1980, and then did not proceed to ordain them as priests until 1997. And we still haven’t taken the next logical step of at least making it possible for a woman to be ordained bishop.”

The Governing Body then broke into groups to consider what the Church’s greatest gift to the nation would be over the next ten years, and what members could do individually. Their suggestions were collated by the Archdeacon of St Davids, the Ven. John Holdsworth, and Nigel King (Swansea & Brecon). The Archdeacon said that the Standing Committee would take forward the findings.

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