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What Wales can teach England

26 July 2012

Richard Harries has just chaired a review into the Church in Wales. Some suggestions have a wider application


Sharp focus: St David's Cathedral. The review suggests an area model

Sharp focus: St David's Cathedral. The review suggests an area model

ARE there any recommendations from the recent review of the Church in Wales that might apply to the Church of England? The review makes several points that apply only to Wales, such as the location of the archiepiscopal see. Also, the Church in Wales is facing a particularly severe challenge now, because of the retirement of large numbers of clergy in the next few years, and too few ordinands. Nevertheless, some of our more radical suggestions do, I believe, have implications for dioceses in England - especially rural ones.

We came to the clear conclusion that the parish system, which has been known and loved for more than 1000 years, is no longer sustainable. What has happened in Wales, as in England, is that parish is joined to parish until a single priest may have to look after half a dozen or more. The administration that this involves, running separate PCCs and helping to raise money for several buildings concurrently, detracts from the time and energy available for his or her core tasks.

To meet this situation, parishes have often been put together to form team or group ministries, or large benefices. This is often not a great success, however, either because of a failure of clergy to co-operate properly, or because, even if they are, in principle, willing to work together, both clergy and laity are psychologically still too fixated on the single-parish system.

WE BELIEVE that a radical rethink is necessary in Wales; so that, instead of being appointed to a parish, a cleric would be appointed first and foremost to a small leadership team serving a much wider area.

It has been suggested that the size of this could be the catchment area for the local secondary school. It might be larger, for it would be necessary for it to be fully financed by the congregations in the area that it served. These area ministries would be served by a small number of stipendiary ministers, but the leadership team for them would also include the designated leader of each congregation in the area served.

THIS points to the next significant conclusion that we came to. For area ministries to work properly, it is essential for there to be far more non-stipendiary ministers and licensed lay ministers than the Church in Wales has at the moment.

In our vision for the future, every congregation would still have a designated leader, but the vast majority of these would be NSMs, or trained lay people. Stipendiary clergy would, indeed, also be appointed to a congregation in the area, but this would be secondary to their taking their place in the leadership team, which would be made up of people with different gifts and expertise.

THE idea of ministry areas, or something like it, is not new. Some dioceses in Wales - Monmouth, in particular - are already moving in that direction. But, to make it a reality, there needs to be a fundamental shift in perspective across the whole Church.

The parish system has served the Church well, but it is good to remember that, before it existed, England and Wales were evangelised by small teams of clergy who lived together in one place and went out to serve a large area, either from a minster or a cathedral.

This highlights another related recommendation that is highly relevant not just to rural dioceses, but to the whole Church. We recommend that, in due course, every leadership team should contain one full-time person with the vocation and training to reach out to those for whom the Christian faith has become a foreign language - especially young people. That is now the majority of people in both Wales and England.

This person, who might well be lay, would concentrate on reaching out and trying to build up different kinds of worshipping communities, perhaps in schools, perhaps on a weekday, depending on the pattern of life in the neighbourhood.

We suggest that, as other stipendiary members of the team are financed by the congregation in the ministry area, money from historic sources should be focused on financing such a ministry as a matter of urgency.

ALLIED to these recommendations is the suggestion that all bishops and clergy should together engage in some serious training for collaborate leadership. Releasing the energy which is latent in laypeople is fundamental to our vision for the Church in Wales of the future. The same point is applicable in many parts of England.

There is a particular kind of leadership that can help to do this, and another kind which, with the best will in the world, blocks it. I have to admit that this particular recommendation arose out of my experience in the diocese of Oxford a few years ago, where it was organised by our training officer, Keith Lamdin (author of Finding Your Leadership Style, SPCK, 2012), and found to be both salutary and helpful. It involves, among other things, a 360-degree appraisal by colleagues and others.

In some ways, the Church of England is in a stronger position than the Church in Wales at the moment. But its serious situation, and the urgent action it needs to take, suggests a pattern of ministry that is increasingly appropriate for the Church of England.

Lord Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford, conducted the review with Professor Charles Handy, and Professor Patricia Peattie.


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