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Rumours of life in Wales counter report, says bishop

26 September 2014

Gavin Drake reports from the Governing Body meeting

CHURCH IN WALES

Update: a screen shot from a film, 2020 Vision, which highlights stories from each of the six dioceses in Wales, showing their response to the Church in Wales's strategy for growth.(Video below)

Update: a screen shot from a film, 2020 Vision, which highlights stories from each of the six dioceses in Wales, showing their response to the Churc...

ATTENDANCE in the Church in Wales has fallen in each of the measured categories in 2013, the Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, reported.

Average Sunday attendance had fallen to 37,235 in the Province - a fall of four per cent for the over-18s, and three per cent for the under-18s. Easter communicants were down ten per cent to 50,639 and Christmas communicants had fallen six per cent to 52,387. The biggest fall was in the number of confirmations: down 18 per cent to 1201.

"The trend is down across the board. There is no set of figures here that indicates a rise in physical numbers in any single category," Bishop John said. "The report puts it bleakly. . . There are no positive indicators. Every single field shows decline compared with the previous year, and in some cases that decline is significant."

But there were "rumours of life", he said, in the Church, including a number of experimental services such as duck-pond worship, barn nativities, and teddy-bear services. The report indicates that "just under 12,000 people were involved in such activities."

The Revd Dr Patrick Thomas (St Davids) said that the figures did not paint a full picture: "We do also come into contact with children through our schools. I will be talking to 500 children at our church school on Friday, as I do every week. . . On special occasions, hundreds of them come into church." He said that this activity did not show up on the statistics.

The Revd Trish Owens (co-opted) asked for parish-share calculations to take into account attendance at Messy Church and alternative services.

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, said that, while the report showed a decline in traditional patterns of worship, it was "important not to put all our eggs in one basket". He described the "strange mood" that suggested that "it is only new initiatives that are going to save the Church," and emphasised the importance of supporting those parishes that attempted a balanced approach.

Penny Williams (Llandaff) said: "It is great to hear about all these wonderful projects, and things that are going on; but we need to be aware that . . . we need a cultural change. One of the biggest cultural changes we need to be aware of is the difference between 'doing church' . . . which suggests something that I do on a part-time basis, and 'being church', which is something I do in every waking hour."

"Most of my work in the Church is outside the Church, in the organisations that I belong to, and I have never ceased to talk about Jesus and the Church," Carol Cobert (Llandaff) said. "There are playgroups in our areas run by mums and dads, there are youth clubs run by secular organisations. We should also be there, we should be visiting them. Not just to talk about God, but to tell them that they matter to us."

The statistics "did not paint a full picture", the Revd Peter Brooks (Swansea & Brecon) said. He called for the statistics to record how many people attended Messy Church events, Good Friday processions on Cefyn Bryn, and nursing-home services, so that "as well as showing the basics of what we do well, we show that we are providing alternatives . . . other experiences that all of our regular worshippers and other people can come and enjoy."

Letter

 

 

THE Governing Body met in groups to explore the Church's approach to "ministry to people with disabilities and additional needs".

This was part of a process leading to a report for the Governing Body in 2017 on the "progress made by the churches, from welcome to inclusion", which would also include "an act of worship which will model good practice in liturgy, which is appropriate for people with disabilities and additional needs, their families and carers".

Before moving into the groups, the Governing Body was addressed by the Vicar of Llangeler with Pen-Boyr, near Cardigan, the Revd Dr John Gillibrand, who had received a lifetime achievement award from Autism Heroes for his work in that area.

The work being undertaken by the Church was, he said, part of a commitment it had made in 2009 to "go beyond the Disability Discrimination Act and to enable all people to exercise their discipleship".

He said that the Church needed to move on in its thinking from "welcoming" to "including"; and that a crucial principle of the disability movement was "nothing about us without us". It was "important that people within the disability movements play a full part of our strategy in this and in other areas", he said.

It was important, too, to secure the place of people with difficulties and additional needs in the life and structures of the Church, he said. "It is not ministry to disabled people, but ministry of disabled people that is important here."

He said that the Church in Wales should be prepared to look at examples of good work throughout the wider Church, and highlighted work in the diocese of Lichfield, to create "dementia-friendly churches".


THE Governing Body agreed to reduce the minimum age for membership of diocesan conferences (the equivalent of diocesan synods) from 18 to 16, after approving a motion first passed by the diocesan conference in St Asaph. It was the first motion to come to the Governing Body from a diocesan conference after a recommendation by the Church in Wales Review Group, chaired by the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth (News, 27 July 2012), to increase the participation of ordinary Church in Wales members in decision-making in the province.

 

THE Church in Wales is to consult its dioceses on whether it should solemnise same-sex marriages. The 12-month consultation was announced by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, at the church's Governing Body meeting in Lampeter on Friday afternoon.

The six dioceses in the province will be asked to give their views on three options: maintaining the status quo; conducting same-sex weddings; and blessing same-sex relationships. The options were outlined in a discussion paper.

In April, the Governing Body met in small groups to discuss the paper. Their discussions were sum- marised in papers presented to the Bench of Bishops, and were "say- ing two seemingly contradictory things", Dr Morgan said.

"First, there certainly seems to be an openness, perhaps even a desire, amongst Governing Body members to affirm in some way or another faithful monogamous same-sex relationships. . . But, secondly, there is an unease - perhaps even an unwillingness - for same-sex marriages to be solemnised in church because the church has hitherto defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

"If we were to act on the first principle - that is, that the Church would now agree to say public prayers or to bless same-sex couples - that would obviously include civil same-sex marriages as well as civil partnerships. It would make no sense at all to bless civil partner-ships and not same-sex mar- riages.

"But if we were to bless same-sex civil marriages, the question would arise why we were unwilling to solemnise those marriages, given the fact that, in traditional Christian sacramental theology, it is the couple, in fact, who marry one another, and the Church merely invokes God's blessing on their commitment."

Dr Morgan said that the Church faced "a very similar dilemma over the remarriage of divorced people". But he said that the conversations "clearly point to the fact that Governing Body members want to deal with this issue with greater pastoral sensitivity than we did for the remarriage of divorced people".

The Church in Wales Church and Society Officer would produce "a specific consultation paper in co-operation with the Bench of Bishops", and this would be sent to the dioceses, along with the Doctrinal Commission's report. At the end of the consultation process, the Bishops "will bring the matter back to the Governing Body with clear proposals for the way ahead".

The Governing Body did not vote on the consultation, and none of its members spoke in response to the Archbishop's statement.

 

THE Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, began a debate on the future of ministry in the Church in Wales by explaining the decision of the Bench of Bishops to reform the way that the province undertakes theological training.

Dr Morgan explained that the Bishops had rejected the proposals of a review group to close St Michael's College, Llandaff (News, 4 April), but said: "It's not business as usual for St Michael's College, or the St Seiriol's Centre [in Bangor], because both of those institutions will eventually cease to exist in their present form, and will form part of one training institute for the whole of the Church in Wales."

The policy adopted by the Church in Wales would see a single training institution "on two or three sites", the Archbishop said. Llandaff, Bangor, Carmarthen, and Wrexham were being considered.

"It makes no sense in a small province for training to be scattered all over the place, with different people doing different things. It makes sense for it all to be brought under one umbrella."

The new institution would provide training that was "academically rigorous, spiritually challenging, and pastorally competent", and would train people for ordained and lay ministries. The principles had been agreed, but "the details have still to be worked out," he said.

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, who serves as Ministry Bishop for the Church in Wales, said that the new national training institution would offer "national oversight and local delivery". He said that this was a "strategic approach", which meant that "the disconnect between training nationally and what happens in the dioceses will hopefully go." The new approach would create a "collaborative and creative network".

He admitted that "economic questions" were behind the new thinking, and said that "we cannot keep the old order going of full-time paid clergy. . . That pattern cannot be sustained."

He said that the move to replace parishes with Ministry Areas, and with it the increased number of lay people involved in the ministry of the Church, was "the way forward".

"Ministry areas are not just places where ministry takes place because of structural adjustments to keep the show on the road. It is because we honestly believe we can reflect the glory of Christ together. They are about community. They are about shared ministry - not based on hierarchy, but about relationships that want to work together, based on trust and co- operation."

He said that this required a "sea change" in the Church in which "ordained and lay ministry" would be "equally valued in ministry. We have still got the balance wrong."

The number of ordained ministers in the province had fallen from almost 700 in 1998 to 471 today. The Church was seeking to increase the number of lay ministers; but, he said, there were only 13 lay evangelists throughout the Church in Wales.

The director of St Seiriol's Centre, the Revd Professor Mike West (co-opted), said that the review process had produced "great energy for those of us involved in this project. . . We don't underestimate the challenges, but we believe they are vital."

He said that the proposals would require the dioceses to change how they work in addition to the train-ing institutions, and said that lay training officers, DDOs, and those involved in other training should be "challenged to see all of this as part of one process".

The Revd Sally Thomas (United Reformed Church) welcomed the report's emphasis on working with ecumenical partners, but asked why it said "when appropriate". "Ministry, when effective, has to be ecumenical," she said.

The Revd Heidi-Maria de Gruchy (Monmouth) challenged the use of the term "pioneer ministers". "We are all pioneers," she said. "When we designate certain people to be pioneer ministers, we think the job is done."

There needed to be more flexibility in both the way and the time that training was delivered, Becky Nesbitt (Swansea & Brecon) said. She had enquired about lay ministry training, and was told it took place on Friday mornings. This excluded those who worked full-time. She suggested the use of distance learning, "so that we perhaps get people involved before they get too grey".

The Archdeacon of St Davids, the Ven. Dennis Wight (co-opted), said that the Church was "paying lip service" to lay ministers, and provided no financial support. Lay ministers received no grants for books or robes. "If we are going to take lay ministry seriously, get out the money and show it," he said.

The motion was approved unanimously with five abstentions.

That the Governing Body note and welcome:

(i) the Provincial Review on ministerial training and the following consultation process which has led the Bench of Bishops to agree to create a new All-Wales Training Institute which will meet the training needs of the future;

(ii) the recognition by the Bench of Bishops, in the context of 2020 Vision, of the importance of developing lay and ordained ministries to support the new Ministry Areas and to provide appropriate discernment processes and training.

 

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