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Review urges Church to seize ‘great opportunity’

21 September 2012

A review of the structure of the Church in Wales dominated its Governing Body in Lampeter, reports Gavin Drake.


Reviewing the situation: the panel with the Archbishop of Wales: left to right: Professor Peattie, Lord Harries, Dr Morgan, and Professor Handy

Reviewing the situation: the panel with the Archbishop of Wales: left to right: Professor Peattie, Lord Harries, Dr Morgan, and Professor Handy

THE meeting of the Governing Body (GB) of the Church in Wales last week began with a presentation from the independent review panel that was helping the Church look to the future ( News, Comment, 27 July). It consisted of the former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth; Professor Charles Handy, formerly of the London Business School; and Professor Patricia Peattie, who once chaired the standing committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Lord Harries thanked those who had taken part in the consultation process for "a real willingness to face up to the situation". The panel's "radical suggestions", he said, included replacing parishes with larger ministry areas, and training lay people to take on more leadership.

"The parish system is no longer sustainable. . . We have to start the other way around with the formation of a team ministry: a leadership team serving an area ministry." But this should not mean "that the good in the parish system goes out of the window."

Professor Handy said: "You have a great opportunity at the moment to reposition yourself for the huge task that we have in a changing society: to be the one stable organisation while everyone else is crumbling around you."

THE panel took questions from the floor for more than an hour.

Dr David Causton (St Davids) challenged the proposal to sell off parsonages, requiring clergy to find their own accommodation.

The Revd Haydn England-Simon (Llandaff) said clergy stipends were such that they would "not be able to get a mortgage for more than £70,000". He said: "This is a huge worry - not more so when it is a clergyperson with family." He suggested that price variations in different parts of Wales could make it difficult for the clergy to move areas.

Lord Harries replied: "This is not one of the recommendations that we see being implemented straight away, or even as a matter of urgency, but we think it is worth seriously debating."

The Revd Richard Wood (St Davids) said: "We have a vocations crisis already." He asked where the additional leaders would come from to fill the area-ministry teams. "If they are not called at the moment, why would they suddenly be called with a change of strategy?"

Lord Harries said: "There is a lot of unused energy in the Church in Wales at the moment. There are a good number of Readers who told us they were under-used; and there were many lay people who told us they wanted to do more, and there seemed to be a kind of block on it."

Canon Joseph Griffin (Swansea & Brecon) was concerned about the proposal that the archiepiscopal see should be fixed on Llandaff, based in Cardiff.

The panel had come to their conclusion "only reluctantly", Lord Harries said, "because we recognise the strength of the present system. . . . But, from the outside, for all the obvious reasons about somebody needing to be a spokesperson for the Church in Wales as a whole where all the centres of communication are, we were persuaded."

THE Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, moved a motion welcoming the report, commending it to the Church for "study and action", and appointing the standing committee to "co-ordinate consideration of the report and action on its recommendations", and to report to the GB. "We're not asking you to agree to the report, or even to receive it or accept it, but to welcome it."

The motion called for initial responses by 9 November. "There is urgency to this work," he said.

The motion was seconded by the chairman of the standing committee, His Honour Judge Philip Price QC (Monmouth), who said it was important to build up momentum behind the report. The committee would welcome suggestions about improving GB procedures, he said. "Come and tell us what to get rid of. . . Let's remove the obstacles from the constitution which will release the energy."

The Revd Jan Gould (Llandaff) welcomed the report's emphasis on collaborative leadership. "The hierarchical structure of the Church in Wales is stifling, and completely out of touch with the way young people live their lives."

Jim Thompson (Monmouth) urged the appointment of a project manager to implement the report. "I'm not convinced, in my experience of the Church in Wales, that we have the leadership skills or competencies in the right place to bring about management of change."

The Revd Philip Poyner (Ecumenical Representative) said that the Methodist Church had considerable experience of ministry areas through the circuit system, which had existed since the early days of the Church "by necessity". He said that many Methodist ministers placed a high value on community pastoral care, and he suggested that the new area teams would need to set up a "highly developed system of pastoral visitors". Also, an ecumenical approach should be adopted when allocating pastoral provision to new housing estates, to prevent duplication of effort.

Roger Whitehead (Bangor) said that the report was "seriously mistaken" in suggesting that "each ministry area should be expected to cover at least the cost of its ministry team". He said that the report tempered that suggestion by recognising "this would not be possible, at least in the short term" in some rural and deprived areas. "That suggests an interim subsidy to those areas that are not seen to be pulling their own weight."

Rosamund Crawford (St Asaph) questioned whether the standing committee was "really representative of the Church in Wales. The hierarchy is certainly well represented with all the bishops and archdeacons and the dean; but where are the under-50s?"

The Revd Richard Wood (St Davids) also questioned the representative nature of the steering committee, and asked: "How much emphasis is there going to be on evangelism, conversion, and filling with the Holy Spirit, as the report's recommendations are put into practice? Can we please stop trying to save the Church, which we are not called to; and instead work with God in saving the world, which we are called to."

The Revd Canon Dennis Wight (Co-opted, St Davids) said that there were inequalities in the way that lay ministers were cared for and remunerated compared with the clergy. "A lay worker appointed to the team should receive similar benefits as a priest," he said.

The motion was put to the vote, and was carried unanimously, with no abstentions.

THE Archbishop of Wales returned to the independent panel's review in his presidential address. It had "required us to look inwards . . . to ask difficult questions of ourselves as a Church", while also encouraging "people on the fringes of the Church to have their say.

"That is as it should be, because, in the end, we are here as a Church not only to deepen our own faith and live as a new community, but also to draw others to follow Jesus. . .

"'The Spirit blows where it wills.' So it is the Spirit, and the presence of its fruits, which validates any particular structure. . . The real question is not whether we need a structure, but how do we prevent structures stifling the gospel, or becoming ossified, or ends in themselves, instead of being vehicles for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus, of being open to the Spirit?

"But if the images of the Church in the New Testament are structural ones, it is also worth remembering that they are not static ones."

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