AN INDEPENDENT three-member panel, chaired by the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, is undertaking a review of the structure of the Church in Wales. The panel, which also includes Professors Patricia Peattie and Charles Handy, has spent the past year meeting people throughout the province, and held two sessions — small groups, and an open forum — during the GB meeting.
Susan Last (St Asaph) said that church boundaries should be coterminous with local-authority boundaries, to encourage “huge opportunities for partnership working”. She called for a scoping exercise to enable a strategic approach to the use of lay people.
“When I have done pastoral training with lay people, one of the criticisms is: ‘We have done all this training but nobody is using us properly.’”
Geoffrey Davies (Swansea & Brecon) suggested that church leaders should have the same flexibility as people in business to deploy people where they are needed. “We have everything here, we just need to use it properly.”
Dr Adrian Morgan (co-opted) noted lower numbers among congregations and the clergy, “and yet the administrative side of the Church is much as it has been.” He suggested that the six diocesan offices should be replaced with a single head-office, or with three regional offices, covering north, mid, and south Wales.
Rosamund Crawford (St Asaph) suggested that the Church should be “brave”, and sell some churches, replacing them with new, more user-friendly centres.
The Revd Stuart Evans (St Asaph) asked the review panel whether it had sought the views of those outside the Church, and those who had become alienated from it.
Lord Harries replied that they had done that. “For the vast majority of people in Wales now, Christianity is a foreign language.” The Church was “faced with a very major missionary opportunity”.
Canon Joseph Griffin (Swansea & Brecon) said that he was saddened that in the questions put to the small groups by the panel, “the proclamation of the gospel and making disciples was not there; whereas structures, finance, and all sorts of business-speak matters were.”
Dr Gillian Todd (co-opted), citing the police, health service, and local authorities, said that geography, population, and language issues meant that any review of structures in Wales was “extremely difficult”. “Those of us who have battled in the past to find a good administrative structure . . . have always had to fudge issues, particularly in Mid-Wales.”
Sandy Blair (co-opted) described the Church in Wales as a “failing organisation”. He said: “We have enormous resources: lots of people, lots of money, hundreds of buildings, and falling congregations.”
The Church appeared to have lost its relevance. He described the review as a “once-in-a-100-year opportunity”.
The Revd Chancellor Dr Patrick Thomas (St Davids) suggested that parishes should be reorganised around secondary-school catchment areas: “That centre is where people go to do their shopping; it is a place they are willing to go to, and it is a centre with which people identify.”
Canon Stuart Bell (St Davids) said that the attendance element in the Ministry Share acted as a disincentive to grow churches, because “we will be punished if we do” with higher share requests. He joked that clerics should be given a £1000 bonus for increasing attendance by ten per cent a year.
Pamela Odam (Bangor) said in response: “Until and unless we see paying the parish share as a privilege of ministry, and not a punishment, we don’t stand a chance.”
Canon Dennis Wight (co-opted) said that priests should be given the skills to train others. “I know that I must do that in order to set people free.”
The Revd Richard Wood (St Davids) said that he was “deeply saddened” that it was only “difficulties with money” that made his congregation think about sharing their faith.
Miriam Lowe (co-opted under 30) caused amusement when describing a ride at Alton Towers called Oblivion. She warned: “We’ve gone over the edge as a Church, and people like me will want to get off the ride if nothing is done quickly.” She pleaded: “Please do something so that I, and people in college, can say there is hope.”
The Revd Paul Mackness (St Davids) said that parishes should be consulted to find out what they really wanted from their clergy; and that this should guide training.
Canon Val Hamer (Llandaff) said that she disagreed with Lord Harries’s assessment of the people who do not come. “There are people who really do still believe. They want to call themselves Christians, but they don’t want to come to church.”
Kathryn Hall (St Asaph) said that there were “an awful lot of really good clergy within the Church in Wales”, but that they were “bogged down by administration, and don’t get the chance to have meaningful conversations with the community”.
The Archdeacon of Meirionnydd, the Ven. Andrew Jones (Bangor), recalled a 1986 report, Ministry in a United Church, which suggested unified training for ordination across the denominations. “We need to take the ecumenical dimension extremely seriously — more seriously than we have done to date.”
The Revd Quentin Bellamy (St Asaph) said that he wanted to salute the administrative work at the diocesan headquarters. They worked miracles, he said.
The Revd Richard Kirlew (Swansea & Brecon) recommended that clergy “get off our bottoms, get on to our bikes, and go and look for people. That is where our calling is to be — not in churches, not sitting in the rectory wondering why people don’t come to church.”
Carol Corbert (Llandaff) re-called last year’s Port Talbot Passion (Feature, 29 April 2011): “Some of the churches were involved, but most of the churches weren’t. It took an actor, in Michael Sheen, to bring that to the people of Port Talbot, and the people came out in their hundreds and thousands to learn about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” She praised the work of Street Pastors.
Rhian Linecar (Cytun, ecumenical guest) regretted that there had been little discussion about the covenant between the Church in Wales, and the Methodist, URC, Presbyterian, and Baptist Churches.
The Revd Chancellor Professor Michael West (co-opted) said that it was important to decide what the primary tasks of the clergy were, and how the Church was going to train and support them.
“Everything we have thought about,” Lord Harries said, “is quite simply to serve the purpose of the gospel and to bring people into the koinonia with one another, and with God.”
Professor Handy said that it was a “wonderful moment of opportunity”. “If we get it right, it could be a model for everybody else.”
Professor Peattie said: “We have heard some very inspiring new ideas, and we still have the passion behind it.”
The report is to be sent to the Bishops in June. Dr Morgan said that, the “full unexpurgated version” would be sent to members of the GB.