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Church in Wales: Church seeks Welsh-speakers to fill language gap

25 April 2012

Gavin Drake reports from the Governing Body of the Church in Wales

Deliberating: members of the Governing Body GAVIN DRAKE

Deliberating: members of the Governing Body GAVIN DRAKE

Welsh language

THE Governing Body (GB) of the Church in Wales met on Wednesday and Thursday of last week at the Venue Cymru in Llandudno.

Among other matters, it considered a report from a group set up to “consider what good practice in the provision of services and other ministry bilingually might mean” (News, 30 September 2011). The report says that “the Welsh language is an important qualification for all those who are preparing for ministry in the Church in Wales.”

Candidates for holy orders should be asked specifically about their commitment to learn Welsh and to familiarise themselves with the importance of its culture.

These are just two of a number of far-reaching recommendations in the report presented to the Governing Body by the former Plaid Cymru MP and Welsh Assembly member Cynog Dafis.

Speaking in Welsh, Mr Dafis described the language as having “played such a huge part in the religious life of Wales, and which continues to play a huge part”. He said: “The Church has a responsibility to spread its message to young and Welsh speakers.” It also needed to empathise with public policy to promote the language.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, also speaking in Welsh, said: “The Church in Wales does not exist to save the Welsh language, that’s not the purpose of the Church; but any Church has to communicate with people in their own language.” He said that there was a national desire to give the language more prominence in the community — a situation that was very different from 20 years ago.

The Church should not be seen as a “foreign English-language Church in Wales”, but admitted that it often failed to provide services in Welsh. It was “failing in our mission to Welsh-speakers”.

The Revd Chancellor Dr Patrick Thomas (St Davids) described it as a crisis. “I know of the gaps out there, and there aren’t any Welsh speakers offering themselves for those gaps.”

The Archdeacon of Bangor, the Ven. Andrew Jones, said that the report was weak in congratulating those who have learned Welsh, particularly in Bangor and St Davids, where there was heavy use of Welsh. “We are appreciative to Welsh learners.”

The Dean of Brecon, the Very Revd Jeffrey Marshall, said that he could say Guten tag, Bon giorno, Buenos dias, Günaydin, Sabah el kheer, and Boker tov. “The fact that I can greet people in 17 languages to my cathedral, including Turkish, Arabic, and Hebrew, doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be Welsh, it means I’m pleased to be hospitable.”

Dr Adrian Morgan (co-opted), speaking in Welsh, said that he was raised to speak English, but: “I had cerebral palsy, and couldn’t walk far; so my mother decided to send me to a school with smaller class-size. I was introduced to Welsh by accident. Now I’m fluent.”

However, he said: “Welsh-speakers tend to step aside, and leave work to somebody else, and say that if there is a priest, it is the job of the priest; but Welsh-speakers need to take responsibility ourselves.”

Roger Whitehouse (Bangor), an Englishman who moved to Wales on retirement, said that he found some aspects of the report “threatening”, and asked for the statistics to support its findings. It was not acceptable, he said, for a priest to preach in Welsh in a bilingual service without an English translation being made available.

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, speaking in Welsh, said that English was the most prominent in his diocese, but “we try to give equal respect and fair play to both languages. I would like our worshipping to be truly bilingual. . . But I don’t want to see the language disappear to a dark corner. I like to see praise for God being offered naturally in both languages — English, and the language of heaven. It needs to happen in all services, without it being a shock.”

He said that the diocese was making a “real effort” to use Welsh language; but that not one public announcement in Welsh goes by without a complaint. He said that Welsh speakers themselves did not seem to agree on the wording, and that the language used in the translation was either incorrect or insufficient.

“We are willing to be corrected, but those corrections need to be done humbly.”

The Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, said that the Church did not produce enough Welsh-speaking candidates, and depended on priests who had learned the language. He said: “Our communities are becoming more Welsh, but there is a real danger that the Church in Wales is becoming more English because of the leadership in our churches.”

Canon Jonathan Williams (Mon­mouth) urged caution, saying that he lived in a part of Monmouthshire where very little Welsh was spoken. I “put in a plea that we proceed with a good deal of tact and a great lightness of touch. I have no doubt that there are congregations in the area who would find for Welsh to be introduced into services not to be helpful for their worship.”

The Archbishop of Wales praised the “17 per cent of our priests [who] have learned Welsh. It may not be a significant number, but they have learned it to a really high level.”

The Governing Body over­whelmingly voted to welcome the report, with no objections and four abstentions. The motion asked the Standing Committee to consult the Bishops about the priority to be given to particular recommendations, and to report back no later than April 2013.

It also asked the Bishops to report annually on the number of vocations among Welsh-speakers.

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