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Lay offices are to be looked into

23 September 2016


A MOTION proposed by the St Davids diocesan conference (synod) to remove the upper age limits on churchwardens failed to receive the support of the Governing Body in a clause-by-clause vote. But the addition of a new clause, and the acceptance of part of the original motion means that a review of the part played by churchwardens in the province will now take place.

Moving the motion, Canon Paul Mackness (St Davids) began by highlighting a range of significant achievements completed at various ages. “Mozart composed his first piece of music at the age of four or five; as a teenager, the Blessed Virgin Mary was asked to be the mother of the Messiah; at the age of 33, Alexander the Great had created one of the largest empires the world had ever seen; at a similar age, Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world and saved humanity from itself.”

He continued: “At the age of 66, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister and led this country through the Second World War; at the age of 77, John Glenn became the oldest man to go into space; at 83, Agatha Christie wrote her last book; at over 90, Queen Elizabeth II is still on the throne, head of the Commonwealth and supreme governor of the Church of England; at 93, P. G. Woodhouse wrote his 97th book and was knighted.”

He ended with: “At 99, Abraham was called by God; at 365, the Patriarch Enoch was so in tune with God that he was assumed into Heaven; at 600, Noah saved the wildlife of the Earth and humanity through the Ark; and, over 1000, the Doctor is still traversing time and space saving the universe.”

He said that these examples, “some admittedly flippant”, demonstrated that “age is not a barrier to achievement or ability.”

He said that the rule that required churchwardens to retire at the age of 75 — unless the parish received a dispensation from the archdeacon — produced “no discernible benefits”, and was “hampering the work of the Church at a local level”.

He recognised that “there have been many arguments made over the years about the need to open up offices to new blood,” but said: “Let’s be honest: we don’t have new blood.” He said that there were instances where people “might be accused of bed-blocking”, but this could be dealt with by proper adherence to the six-year-term limit.

“Age has little to do with ability when it comes to serving the Church in Wales,” he said. “We are called, all of us, through our common baptism, to be disciples of Christ, from which there is no age limit, and no humanity-imposed mandatory retirement age.

“In a time in which the Church needs to marshal every resource it possesses . . . we need to use the gifts and abilities of all our people, young and old, male and female. We do not need to hamstring ourselves in our mission and ministry by placing limits on ourselves that don’t benefit anyone, least of all the mission of God. If people are willing to serve, then we should encourage them.”

Seconding the motion, Elizabeth Thomas (St Davids) asked: “At a time when we are living longer, why are we so anxious that we impose age limits?” She said that “the whole issue of age limits has caused a great deal of distress in St Davids diocese.”

But the Revd Harri Williams (St Davids) said that he “fundamentally disagreed” with the motion; and said that “the real problem that we have is that there is simply nobody in the pew under 75; surely that is the issue we should be focusing our efforts and attention on.”

He described the current age-profile of the Church as “deplorable”, and said: “We should not be worried or afraid about closing churches. Within 20 years something radical will have to change, because there will simply be nobody there.”

The Revd Dr Adrian Morgan (co-opted, unbeneficed clerics) said “As a young person, I feel marginalised, and my skills aren’t used because I don’t have a sufficient number of grey hairs on my head.”

He said that he knew of churches where the six-year rule was dealt with by a person being the people’s warden for six years; then the bishop’s warden for another six years; before returning to the role of people’s warden.

“The term ‘new blood’ has been used a few times today, but new blood doesn’t just appear when we need it,” the Revd Justin Groves (Monmouth) said. “New blood will only appear if we are intentional and have a strategy for it.”

Robert Wilkinson (St Davids) said that he wholeheartedly agreed that “where we can get younger wardens, this will help encourage younger people into our congregations,” but he warned against the arguments that it was time to close or write off rural churches. “Those churches can still expand, but they are not going to expand if we have a situation where we are struggling to find anybody for warden, or the most appropriate person is ruled out simply on the grounds of their age.”

In a clause-by-clause vote, the original first clause, to remove all age limits relating to churchwardens and sub-wardens with immediate effect, was substantially lost. The Governing Body approved the amended motion:

That the Governing Body:

(i) strongly encourages Dioceses to enforce the six-year rule in relation to the length of time a Churchwarden or Sub-warden holds office and to monitor the need for and number of dispensations granted; and

(ii) request the Standing Committee to review the role of churchwardens and to identify ways of encouraging church members to take on their responsibilities.


Agreement over licensed lay ministers vote. In separate votes, the Governing Body agreed with the Standing Committee that licensed lay ministers “should not be licensed over the age of 75”; and that all future appointments to a number of legal positions — including registrars, chancellors, provincial court judges, and disciplinary tribunal members — should be subject to a mandatory retirement age of 70.

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