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Review of the Church in Wales: lessons for England and Ireland?

03 August 2012


From the Bishop of Sodor & Man

Sir, - Your articles ( News and Comment, 27 July) on the report by Lord Harries of Pentregarth concerning the present and future of the Church in Wales is fascinating, particularly for someone who spent 33 years in its ministry.

In the early years of the 21st century, the Church in Wales Council for Mission and Ministry (of which I was principal officer) was highlighting exactly the issues now raised by Lord Harries, and pointing the way towards the proposals he makes. It is encouraging to know that, the best part of a decade later, a similar course is being proposed by an entirely different source.

This diocese of Sodor & Man has been implementing similar changes gradually over the past four years or so, and we are beginning to see the transformation in terms of real growth: in depth, understanding, service, numbers, youthfulness, and unity. For two years, we have worked with our ecumenical partners in a Covenant for Mission, and in January 2013 our new "mission partnerships" will replace our rural deaneries as primary units of mission.

We join our prayers with many that a renewal of spiritual life alongside the renewal of structures will lead to fresh growth in Wales, in the rest of the UK and on the Isle of Man.

Thie yn Aspick, 4 The Falls, Douglas, Isle of Man IM4 4PZ

From Mr Nigel Holmes

Sir, - Perhaps Wales will be a watershed. Until now, the Church of England's leaders have appeared unwilling to think radically about ministry in the future. That future will be very different even from the recent past.

Four years ago, as a member of the General Synod Reader Review Group, I was frustrated that it failed to face harsh facts - facts similar to those that Lord Harries, Professor Charles Handy, and Professor Patricia Peattie confront so clearly (Church in Wales Review, 2012). They are to be commended for their sense of urgency. Denial is no longer an option for church leaders in either country.

As Frank Field MP said in his preface to The State of the Church and the Church of the State by Michael Turnbull and Donald McFadyen (2012), "The ability to see the ball, scoop it up and run with it in their own direction is a skill the Church is badly in need of."

The authors say that the facts of widespread numerical decline are undeniable, and criticise stop-gap measures such as house-for-duty posts, suggesting that a radical new approach to available resources of both people and money is now needed.

Like the Church in Wales report, they, too, point out that the present path of amalgamations will lead to disaffected, exhausted clergy and church people generally, and they quote the former Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Trevor Beeson: "The Church of England's problem is not vicar shortage but the lack of a strategy that would ensure the proper deployment of the considerable resources already at its disposal."

The Methodist Conference last month extended the range of circumstances in which local preachers can preside at holy communion. It values these people who are integral to its culture and thinking. Is it not time its Covenant partners looked to their 8500 Readers, many of whom feel marginalised? Almost one third say they are under-used (Reader Upbeat, GS 1689, 2008). If the Review is adopted, greater flexibility will encourage unpaid ministers to move more easily across categories.

I know the House of Bishops do not like to be lectured, but when two of their own recent colleagues are speaking so authoritatively, perhaps they will take notice. Maximising the use of diminishing ministerial resources is the issue that will perhaps ultimately define the future presence of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to a greater extent than positions held on women bishops and homosexuality. It should be at the top of the agenda for the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Woodside, Great Corby, Carlisle CA4 8LL

From the Revd R. B. MacCarthy

Sir, - I was interested in your report on the review group on the Church in Wales, which was chaired by the Rt Revd Lord Harries. Many of its recommendations echo those of the Tiller report on the Church of England, which were effectively ignored.

In particular, I note the recommendation that the number of bishops should be reduced to three. The Church of Ireland, with 12, is ludicrously over-supplied for a Church with only about 500 stipendiary clergy.

Ironically, that is the number of bishops proposed for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland by one of its leading theologians. The Roman Church in Ireland claims 80 per cent of the population, whereas the Church of Ireland in the Republic claims only three per cent.

(Former Dean of St Patrick's)
Suirmount, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary

From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, - It was good to read Lord Harries ( Comment, 27 July). In the New Testament, ministry was generally in teams. Jesus had the Twelve. Overseers and elders are described and appointed in the plural. Even Paul had his co-workers.

In ordained-local-ministry (OLM) schemes such as Norwich's, we pioneered the training of clergy together with lay teams from their parishes. It was difficult to hold on to this when we were forced to merge with colleges and courses that trained individuals in isolation. Then the drive for university accreditation meant that ordinands were assessed as individuals, as the assessment of teams seemed beyond their imagination.

We need to return to the original vision of OLM, which made the management of multi-parish benefices practical - though this means retraining incumbents as well as recognising the wealth of gifts and experience in a team and the value of co-operation.

I hope that Readers continue to value the designation "lay", and that their training will be related to their home and work situations. They should not be seen as lesser clergy, but earthed specialists in communication and apologetics. They should be assessed on the questions that are being and should be asked in their communities rather than those posed by academics.

39 St Michael's Road, Liverpool L17 7AN


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