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Future of Church in Wales discussed in two debates

02 May 2014


Addressing concerns: the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, at the debate on the future of the Church in Wales

Addressing concerns: the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, at the debate on the future of the Church in Wales

THE future of the Church in Wales was the subject of two separate debates at the Governing Body (GB) meeting.

Members heard a progress report about the 2020 Vision initiative seeking a reimagined Church in Wales; and, later, agreed to support the continued development of a unity scheme - the Church Uniting in Wales - incorporating Methodist, Presbyterian, United Reformed, and Baptist Churches alongside the Church in Wales.

A key aspect of the 2020 vision, prepared by a panel led by the former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, was the replacement of parishes with new Local Ministry Areas. In a progress report, GB members were told that "clear evidence has emerged that significant steps towards the creation of Ministry Areas and Ministry Area Teams are being taken in every diocese.

Helen Biggin (co-opted), who chairs the Implementation Group, said that the next GB meeting in September would receive a progress report from the dioceses. "2020 Vision is not about simply restructuring, job done, we're fit for the next 100 years: it is about . . . being and becoming the Church that God wants us to be."

The Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, chairs the Implementation Group's legal-affairs sub-group. He told GB members that this group had been looking at the "constitutional and legal impediments to the implementation of Ministry Areas".

The constitution currently allows for four types of local church structure: a single church benefice, a rectorial benefice, a grouped parish, or a united parish. "We felt that, when we looked at the range of church life that was developing, that it was probably unwise for us to add to that with a new category of Ministry Area."

He said that dioceses were "bringing a huge amount of creativity to the way in which they were developing church life", and that defining Ministry Areas constitutionally "would probably run the risk that it wouldn't be up to task. It wouldn't be suitable, because it would try to shoehorn into one new category the variety and diversity of Ministry Area arrangements which were clearly in evidence across the province."

The Welsh Church has designated 16 November as 2020 Vision Sunday to "provide church members . . . with the opportunity to explore the theological vision underpinning all of this work".

This will be preceded by a two-day conference, "The Time Is Now", in Llandudno,at which 30 delegates from each diocese will be joined by delegates from other denominations to "kick-start the cultural change that will be necessary for proposed changes to be introduced successfully".

The Revd Phil Bettinson (St Asaph), described 2020 Vision as "incredibly exciting", but said that part of the vision was to look at the way clergy worked and lived. "In the small area where I minister, we have, over the past eight months, had three clergy off with stress. This is not the fault of Vision 2020, this is the fault of the way in which clergy still insist on trying to work as if we were one man, one church. Perhaps it is time . . . to explore that culture, and the way in which clergy work."

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, said that the Church needed to improve the way it communicated its 2020 Vision. He had become "severely unstuck" at one meeting he had attended, and had realised that, "despite the fact that countless pieces of paper had been produced, countless stamps had been stuck on envelopes, countless opportunities had been created for people to discuss, debate, question, explore, and so on, there were people who had simply not heard or participated - and, I think it is fair to say, were angry."

The Archdeacon of St Davids, the Ven. Dennis Wight, emphasised the need for discipleship. "We underestimate the gifts that the laity have in this Church, and we do it at our peril. If we put lay ministry a little higher, and the clerical minister a tad lower . . . we will move further on."

LATER, the Governing Body backed plans for a Uniting Church of Wales, calling for the Commission of Covenanted Churches in Wales to further develop their unity recommendations, which would, amongst other developments, create three Free Church bishops to serve Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Reforme and Baptist jurisdictions (News, 19 April 2013).

The three new bishops, with the six Church in Wales bishops, will "share collegiality and full interchangeability with all the other bishops" of the new Church Uniting in Wales. All existing ministers will not be re-ordained, but will "agree to the laying on of hands by at least one Anglican bishop, and at least one other bishop representing the other traditions".

The current recommendations say that "leaders, lawyers, and administrators representing all five member Churches be asked to draw up, within a period of five years, a Scheme and Constitution for the Uniting Church".

Members of the Governing Body were given detailed reports on pastoral oversight and church governance, and a summary of recommendations, along with an executive summary of a report from the CiW's Standing Doctrinal Commission.

That report described the proposals as "a time of opportunity, and an invitation to take risks".

It continued: "The inherited structures of all Churches in Wales are, in our view, both contingent and changeable, although Anglicans would always wish to assert the importance of the three-fold ministry in their ecclesiology.

"It is also the case that there is much duplication, both of structures and of buildings, which could be pruned. However, the experience of recent decades is that local experiments need facilitation from higher structures in order to flourish.

"We do not see the proposals as establishing a culture of uniformity, but rather affirming and enabling a variety of Christian traditions to flourish."

Canon Peter Sedgwick, who chairs the Doctrine Commission, told members that there had been no debate "that has raged more furiously in the past 40 or 50 years in theology, than on the doctrine on the nature of the Church.

"There have been those . . . who have asserted that the fundamentals of the Church in the New Testament are an ecclesiology that is based on the empowering of the Holy Spirit. There has been much written about the way in which a doctrine of the Holy Spirit would move the traditional Churches away from their reliance on the three-fold ministry.

"Against this, a large number of Anglican Churches have actually pointed to the fact that there is no contradiction between a doctrine of the Church which is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and a doctrine of bishops."

Dr Adrian Morgan (co-opted) said that the Welsh covenanted churches had started to search for organic unity more than a decade before he had been born. "It is largely accepted that this is our last chance."

The Revd Sally Thomas (United Reformed Church) said that the United Reformed Church was the first of the five covenanting traditions to have expressed a view on the recommendations. "Are we in agreement? Yes, broadly we are. Is there anything that could be improved? Yes, there is always room for improvement. Is there anything not acceptable? Yes, as things currently are; but there is room here for the conversation to grow and develop."

The Bishop of St Asaph, theRt Revd Gregory Cameron, said that the commission that had prepared the proposals had tackled the question: "'How do you reconcile Churches of an episcopal and non-episcopal polity with one another?' We Anglicans can sometimes sound pretty bizarre in our insistence of episcopacy.

"I don't think we are; and one must always remember that the Anglican Church looks to a greater ecumenism. . . An episcopal polity is fundamental to that greater unity. The door must always be kept open to episcopacy."

Canon Paul Mackness (St Davids) said that he was concerned about the report's description of the CiW, "which seems to suggest that we are six separate Churches. I am concerned about the way this is portrayed, because we are not six separate Churches; we are six separate dioceses. We may do things slightly differently, but we are united in our doctrine, in our orders, in the way in which we regulate and order the church life and ministry."

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, urged the Governing Body to back the motion - which, he said, "only commits us to asking the commission to do further work on the documents before us".

"The Reformed Churches in Britain have been suspicious of bishops and the whole episcopal system, but here they are willing to take them into their system. And not only that, but they are willing for their bishops, elected by them, to be ordained by three Anglican bishops so that they can be deemed to be part of the historic episcopate.

"I think that is a huge step for them to take; and they go further than that. They say that these bishops will in future ordain ministers within their particular churches; so that from this point on they will be part of the threefold order." He said that the sister Churches were being "incredibly gracious".

He sought to address concerns that the laying on of hands would amount to a reordination, saying: "There is no intention here to reordain, but a willingness on the part of all of us - archbishops included - to be recommissioned for a new ministry. If there are people who believe that, in so doing, I, as Archbishop, am being reordained, it won't be the first time for my intentions to be misunderstood, and it will be a small price to pay for the emergence of a stronger, united, reinvigorated Church."


The votes in favour of the motion were not counted as it was clearly carried with ten votes against and three abstentions:

That the Governing Body:

(i) commend the recommendations made by the Commission of Covenanted Churches in Wales to the Gathering of the Covenanted Churches in Wales, and summarised in the paper entitled A Summary of Recommendations;

(ii) affirm the advice given by the Standing Doctrinal Commission in the paper entitled The Gathering: A report from the Standing Doctrinal Commission;

(iii) encourage the Commission of Covenanted Churches in Wales to develop the recommendations further taking into account the advice given by the Standing Doctrinal Commission.

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