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Welsh Governing Body: Ministry Areas are endorsed

20 September 2013

THE Governing Body of the Church in Wales has endorsed the creation of Ministry Areas, and called on the Standing Committee of the Church to "bring forward proposals for any constitutional changes necessary to enable [their] implementation by dioceses" in a further debate about the recommendations contained within the Church in Wales Review (News, 21 September 2012).

Ministry Areas and Ministry Area Teams will see the existing parish structure replaced by teams of lay and ordained ministers serving an area based on the geographic reach of secondary schools.

The chair of the Review implementation group, Helen Biggin (Co-opted), opening the debate, said that it was "about the present and the future of our beloved Church in Wales.

"We in the Church in Wales want everyone to grow in faith. We have to be looking for opportunities for every person who is sitting in the pew to make a contribution that is meaningful to them, and for them. Ministry Areas and their teams offer a God-given opportunity to do just that."

The Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, speaking in Welsh, said that it was "an exciting time to be a member of the Church in Wales". The proposals "offer us a new way to be the Church".

The National Assembly Policy officer for Cytûn, Churches Together in Wales, Geraint Hopkins (Ecumenical), expressed surprise that "not a lot is said about ecumenical engagement." He asked: "What thought are we giving to extending this idea to our sister Churches?"

The Revd Philip Bettinson (St Asaph) was concerned at the proposal that Ministry Areas should be self-financing. This would mean that Ministry Areas would go "where we can afford them rather than where they are needed."

The Revd Pamela Powell (St Asaph) hoped that the framework for Ministry Areas "will remain flexible enough not just to meet the needs of each diocese, but the diverse nature of each community".

The Revd Haydn England-Simon (Llandaff) said that he was excited about Ministry Areas, but asked: "How are we going to get past some

of the problems holding us back, simply because the constitution

of the Church in Wales is holding

us back?"

Penny Williams (Llandaff) was concerned that the proposals were "still based on geography". She said that lay ministry was seen as an adjunct to clerical ministry. "If we're going to change the culture of the Church, we need to change the culture of ministry and vocation."

The Revd Emlyn Williams (Co-opted) explained that he has been in a Ministry Area for a year. "Things have been tough. They were very difficult at the beginning. There were fears in some churches that 'you've only come to close us'." But he said that things were "beginning to get into swing and fall into place".

He sat down with the Chancellor to look at the constitution, and was "told to dream what we want to dream: think of a perfect Church, look at the constitution, and fill in the gaps". He said that there were bits in the constitution that would not allow them to move forward, "with some bits that we want to dream about".

A United Reformed Church minister, the Revd Sally Thomas (Ecumenical), suggested that many of the proposals for Ministry Areas resonated with The Gathering's proposals for a United Church in Wales. "Here is an opportunity to see how this might happen in positive concrete terms."

The Bishop-Elect of Monmouth, the Ven. Richard Pain, said that only about five per cent of his diocese did not have a designated Ministry Area. "One thing that became clear is that the structural thing is easy to do. . . The real struggle that we have had is looking at the cultural changes needed for Ministry Areas to flourish."

Fred Foskett (Bangor) said that the question of finance was solvable. His deanery had a system "where we underwrite the quota for poorer churches. We move finance from richer churches to poorer ones."

Sandy Blair (Co-opted) said that his diocese had "struggled for many years with the challenge of encouraging parishes to raise more and more money from fewer and fewer people to support the level of clergy".

Dr Adrian Morgan (Co-opted) had just returned from a six-week placement in Texas as part of his pre-ordination training. He was amazed at the different level of engagement. In Wales, he said, "the only feedback I get from sermons I preach is 'diolch yn fawr' - 'thank you' - and off they go. The level of engagement in the American context was completely different. They had heard the sermon; they had thought about it; and they were engaged with it. After the service, they were ready to ask me questions. They were ready to grapple with me about it."

He asked: "What can we do to nurture that level of engagement?"

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, urged members of the Governing Body "if and when demands are asked of us provincially to support new models of training, we should give them that support."

The Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, expressed concern about the requirements of the Charity Commissioners. "As groups get bigger, the type of demands on Ministry Areas and larger parishes could be quite significant." He said that work was needed to ensure that a "new raft of demands doesn't flatten us and stop us doing what we are wanting to do."

The proposals were passed unanimously, with two abstentions.

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