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Church in Wales moves towards Ministry Areas

27 September 2013


THE Church in Wales has lost no time implementing a recommendation by its independent review group that the traditional parish structure should be replaced by new Ministry Areas. The six dioceses in the province have already begun implementing the new structure, even before its Governing Body agrees changes to the Church's constitution to regularise the new system (News, 20 September).

Ministry Areas combine a number of different churches around a Ministry Area Team Leader, and group of ordained and lay ministers. The latest Ministry Area came into being on Monday evening, when the Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John (left in photo, above), installed the Revd Richard Wood (right) as leader of the new Bro Madryn Ministry Area.

Centred on the small seaside town of Nefyn, on the Llŷn peninsular, Bro Madryn includes nine churches from two former benefices. It is one of three new Ministry Areas serving the Llŷn, alongside Bro Enlli, and Bro'r Holl Saint.

Bro Madryn takes its name from one of the mountains in the area. The Archdeacon of Merioneth, the Ven. Andrew Jones, said that it was symbolic of "the rock that holds it all together".

Bishop John said that the community had responded positively to the new structure, despite initial questions about what it would mean for them, and for church finances, and how often they would see their vicar. "All of these questions came to the fore, but as people heard the vision, that this is all about co- operating together and drawing people into a different way of doing church, they have been captivated by the vision. That has been really positive."

The Bishop said that the speedy adoption of Ministry Areas was for positive reasons about "new ways of doing church"; but he acknowledged that "it is undeniable" that the Church in some places is in crisis.

"We think there is every opportunity to begin this work now, and we are concerned that if we don't start now, it is going to be too late," he said. "One has to be honest with the statistics, but, by the same token, if we don't believe that we can do church better, then we shouldn't be embarking on this."

Alongside structural changes, Ministry Areas will see lay ministry developed with worship leaders, and pastoral-care-providers' being trained and recognised alongside the traditional Reader. "In the past, all of those things have been present, but they have never been part of a connected whole team, and that is what makes this distinctive," Bishop John said.

"Richard shares his ministry with them, as I share my ministry with him; and so they have a much bigger investment in the direction in which mission and ministry happens, in the planning of it and the shaping of it.

"That's distinctive, I think. It's not happened before in quite the same way as we're doing here. Our hope is that that will allow us to make fewer mistakes, because you are drawing on a lot of wisdom; but also that you will have a lot of buy-in, because you are drawing people into the centre of the decision-making process rather than simply leaving it to just one or two."

Mr Wood is positive about the new structure: "To my mind, it is how it should always be, and how it should have been." A change from the emphasis of vicar-led ministry was "a move in the right direction", he said. Ministry "should never be vested in an individual".

There has been controversy over the announcement earlier this month of the closure of two churches in the centre of Bangor as part of the creation of a new Ministry Area for the city; but Bishop John was clear that Ministry Areas were not a pretext for church closures.

"The only reason why we had to do that in the case of Bangor was that both of those churches faced crippling building issues, and it was the only area where, within a square three miles you had seven places of worship," he said. "The rationalisation needed to happen, irrespective of Ministry Areas. There isn't any plan to close the churches in this area."

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