Governing Body of the Church in Wales: Archbishop Davies promises ‘more of the same’ — but faster

by
22 September 2017

Gavin Drake reports from the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in Lampeter

CHURCH IN WALES

Vision: the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies

Vision: the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies

New Archbishop

THE 13th Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, has signalled that the Province will continue to develop the vision begun by his predecessor, Dr Barry Morgan. But he says that he hopes to increase the tempo of change.

Archbishop Davies was elected this month at an electoral college in Llandrindod Wells (News, 8 September), and his election was confirmed and he took office immediately. It comes at a time of significant change for the Welsh Church with the elevation of two women to the Bench of Bishops, representing a turnover of one third of its members.

The election of the Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd June Osborne, to the see of Llandaff by the Bench of Bishops followed the electoral college’s failure to elect a candidate (News, 5 May). The diocese’s preferred candidate, the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, failed to receive the necessary votes. In acrimonious exchanges since then, the Dean accused the Church in Wales of homophobia (News, 7 July).

During an interview at the end of last week’s meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, Archbishop Davies declined to comment further on the episode. “As far as we are concerned, Bishop June is in post, and the episode is closed,” he said. “I am not really going to say anything more about it. And nothing more has been said about it. There is no desire to reopen it.”

CHURCH IN WALESTime of significant change: the Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne

The centenary of the disestablishment of the Welsh dioceses, and the inauguration of the Church in Wales, falls in 2020. The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, a former Bishop of Oxford, recently chaired a review for the Province, leading to the creation of the Vision 2020 strategy. Now, traditional parishes are being replaced by mission and ministry areas.

The new Archbishop said that he wanted the changes to “pick up a bit of pace” and for “the people of God to be set free from some of the burdens which they currently bear”. The Province had begun considering the future of its buildings, and he hoped to “free up . . . a huge reservoir of energy, finance, time and so on and so forth” among local Christians. But “I don’t see a radical change of vision. I think the vision is one that is already fairly well developed, and is beginning, actually, to emerge.”

After a century of disestablishment, the Archbishop said, “we would still seek to be the Church that is open and welcoming and available to everybody”, before adding that “every denomination seeks to do that.”

He said that, as the Church in Wales had been the Established Church, “there is still very much the sense” that when secular organisations wanted to contact church groups for events such as Remembrance Sunday, “they tend still to think, ‘Oh, we will ask the Vicar.’

“That is not intended in any sense to diminish the contributions of other denominations, but I think that is still how people react. I think somebody once put it that we may be disestablished, but we are not disinterested.”

The Church in Wales still had “vestiges of establishment”, including acting as registrars of marriage, and ongoing legal obligations to bury the dead, he said.

The Governing Body received a report showing continued decreases in stipendiary clergy and church attendance. But the Archbishop said that that he was “not concerned about the future of the Church in Wales”. He was, however, concerned about the age range of ordinands.

He had been just about to turn 30 when he had gone to theological college in 1982 after a brief career as a lawyer, and had been one of the oldest students in the college. Now, more ordinands were arriving at college after spending much longer in secular employment.

“The stipendiary ministry will, and has to, remain the fundamental foundation stone of the way in which we do ministry,” he said. “As a Bench, we took the view that the team leadership role would probably almost certainly be filled by a stipendiary. So we still need that reservoir of — if you like — traditional ordinands.

“Having said that, the other sorts of ministry that we are developing are recognising something that has been hidden for a very long time, which is that in our congregations there are people who have got enormous reserves of talents and gifts and an opportunity to serve.

“And so you value the established sort of ministry that you have, you recognise its strength, you recognise how fundamental it is, but you do also recognise that it is not, actually, the be-all and end-all. It is not the embodiment of the ministry in all its entirety.

“And actually having people emerging from their congregations, raised up by their congregations, raised up from their congregations, is actually being quite faithful to the model of the Early Church — because Paul would go around to various places (as we know, he was a great traveller), but he would identify people locally who could be trusted to form local leadership. He had to send them stern letters occasionally and say ‘You are not doing it quite as I intended it,’ but that is Paul for you, isn’t it?”

The Province recently closed St Michael’s Theological College, Llandaff, and replaced it with St Padarn’s Institute, to provide a range of training, much of it in the dioceses, for clergy, ordinands, and lay leaders (News, 15 April 2016).

“It is early days, obviously, and you have lumps and bumps along the road,” the Archbishop said. “The creation of this new institute was . . . such a radical change in terms of how we did our training. And, in such a small Province, a radical change of that nature is not easily absorbed.

“We maintain our commitment to traditional ordinands — residential students — but at the same time recognise this model of dispersed training and what we might call the apprenticeship model is something that has merit in it, and, I guess, if you like, going back to the Early Church: these local leaders would have been there with Paul, learning it on the piste, as it were.

“So, in terms of the ways in which it is working, I am confident that it is going to work. I am confident that the leadership of St Padarn’s, which has now been established, and the welcome decision by the Representative Body to take responsibility for the core funding of it, will make life a lot easier. We are committed to it, and I am sure it is going to work.”

 

Holy communion

THE implementation of a new policy to admit all the baptised to holy communion in the Church in Wales, whether or not they have been confirmed, could be postponed for a year after a private member’s motion sought “greater detail” from the Bench of Bishops and an opportunity for “concerns to be shared”.

The proposal was announced by the Bench of Bishops in a letter released to members of the Governing Body at their meeting in Lampeter last September (News, 23 September 2016). They had expected it to be phased in from Advent Sunday 2016 until Advent Sunday this year. The Bishops have been asked to extend the period until Advent Sunday 2018.

The motion to postpone was moved “with some element of trepidation” by the Revd Harri Williams (St Davids), who said that he “respected the fact that matters of faith and order are the preserve of the Bench of Bishops”.

He said, however, that concerns about the change had been raised, including the “overriding concern” of “the desire and the need to have a fuller debate regarding the issues which arise from this change in the teaching and practice of the Church”. A wider consultation and debate would “enable some of the theological and practical questions regarding this policy, hopefully, to be answered”, he said.

Many clergy, for reasons of scripture, tradition, and reason, were unable to accept the change of teaching, he said. “A debate would ensure that such difference of opinion was heard and that those who, for theological reasons, cannot accept such change are reassured about their place in the life of the Church.”

Seconding the motion, the Archdeacon of Cardigan, the Ven. William Strange (St Davids), said that he supported the admission of baptised children to communion, saying that “the Early Church, and probably the New Testament Church as well, practised infant communion. And just as infant baptism was an apostolic practice, so, I believe, infant communion was, too.”

But he said that there was a “difference between theory and practice”. It was “right in theory” to communicate baptised children and do that from their baptism. But the theory would work only if the churches, in practice, were like the churches of the apostolic and post-apostolic period; and those churches had “quite clear boundaries of belonging — at least as far as admission to communion was concerned”.

He said that the Early Church required the non-baptised “to leave worship at the Peace and [they] were not permitted to remain for the ministry of the sacrament”. This was different from churches in 2017, which had “children we have never seen before presenting themselves at the rail” during Christmas services.

Speakers opposing the motion included Carol Cobert (Llandaff), who said that the decision to admit children to communion had “transformed our church considerably”. She said that “the children now feel that they are part of the whole congregation. We see the pleasure on these little ones’ faces when they come up to receive their communion.”

CHURCH IN WALESNo confusion: Dr Heather Payne

Dr Heather Payne (Llandaff) said that “it really ought to be normal for all the baptised people to receive communion,” and that there was no confusion about whether to give communion to a child: “If they put their hand out, we give them communion, and if they don’t, we don’t.”

Christopher Cotterill (Monmouth), a lawyer, said that the motion would provide time to deal with the “practical problems and legal problems” caused by the new policy. “Children cannot make up their own minds as to what they want to do until they obtain the age of majority,” he said.

“You have situations where you have families that are divided, and the mother may want to go to church and is all in favour of the child having communion, and the father isn’t.” It would take only “one or two misinformed journalists who want a good headline for the whole idea to be rubbished”.

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, said that the Bench of Bishops “are always happy to see issues of concern raised appropriately at the Governing Body” and “would be happy to see a fuller discussion”. The Bench were “minded to support the request” to the Standing Committee for a further debate if the Governing Body requested it.

The Bench would discuss the policy at their next meeting in October, he said. “If further guidelines on preparation and appropriate resources are felt necessary, of course they will be forthcoming.”

He said that questions about when communion could be refused were set out in liturgical texts and canon law: “The general rule, imperative from the 16th century, is that a minister shall not deny holy communion to any person that shall devoutly and humbly desire it, without a lawful cause. And the power to excommunicate is reserved to the bishop.”

The motion was carried by 53 to four with nine abstentions, including the entire Bench of Bishops. It said:

That the Governing Body:

(i) Request the Bench of Bishops to allow that the “Documents about Admission to Communion” be considered in greater detail by the Governing Body in debate in order for any concerns to be shared and for appropriate responses to be made;
(ii) Request the Bench of Bishops to update the “Documents about Admission to Communion” as appropriate in light of the debate and to extend the period of introduction until the first Sunday in Advent 2018.

 

Armed forces

 

THE six dioceses have been asked to consider signing corporate and community elements of the Armed Forces Covenant to set out “provisions for the pastoral and spiritual needs of the Armed Forces Community” in their areas. The request came in a private member’s motion introduced by the Revd Jonathon Wright (Llandaff), a former RN commando, and followed a question that he asked in April (News, 28 April).

Moving the motion, he explained that the Church of England’s General Synod had endorsed the Covenant in July 2014, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had signed it the following February. “The Church of England’s experience shows that a number of small changes can have a large impact,” he said.

CHURCH IN WALESCommunity: the Revd Jonathon Wright addresses the meeting

His motion asks the Bench of Bishops to “endorse” the Armed Forces Covenant. The Bench “is not a corporate body and consequently is unable to sign a corporate covenant on behalf of this Province”, he said, “but, as our leaders in the faith and most visible communicators, their voice endorsing the Covenant will be heard.”

Besides asking the six dioceses to consider their response to the Covenant, the motion asked the Standing Committee to review the implementation of the Covenant across the Church in Wales and to report to the Governing Body in two years.

“This motion makes no statement on the morality of any particular conflict or the position of the government of the day,” Mr Wright said. “It understands that those who serve in the armed forces have no say in the political decision to use military force or the means by which that force is applied. But it recognises that the members of the armed forces, their families, and dependants do need to know the availability of the Church’s spiritual support, pastoral care, and moral guidance.”

Seconding the motion, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, said that the smart uniforms of veterans and serving soldiers at Remembrance parades were often a “mask”. He asked “whether what is going on behind that mask is damage: unanticipated damage that has not yet occurred but may have taken root; or whether there are people there who because of their experiences already have suffered some sort of damage.”

The “immense pride” of Forces personnel might make it “very difficult” for them to accept help, he said. “They don’t want to say [military service] has done then some type of psychological harm.”

Karen Stafford-Smith (Monmouth), supporting the motion, said that, while most service personnel lived in military quarters with the support of military neighbours, a significant number lived in the wider community, where “military service brings its own unique set of challenges.”

She gave personal examples of her husband’s eight-month deployment on his ship, leaving her behind with four-year-old and eight-month-old sons and “no immediate family living in the vicinity”; and an occasion when a late-night phone call instructed her husband to report to the ship by seven the following morning “to sail for an indeterminate period of time”.

“In the scheme of things, these may seem low level, but for a new young wife and mother these situations are significant,” Mrs Stafford-Smith said. She asked members of the Governing Body to consider “what contributions they can make, particularly at a parish level”.

Gregor Lachlann-Waddell (St Asaph) spoke about two of his uncles, who both served in the armed forces and who both suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. “It takes a lot for them to speak about their experiences, and they hardly do,” he said. “When they left the army, I wish that they had had support in the community.”

The Bishop of St Davids, the Rt Revd Joanna Penberthy, whose husband holds a commission, said that it was important to know how many of the country’s homeless people were “those who have served in the army and are suffering from various post-traumatic stress conditions”.

The motion was not “touch-feely”, she said. “This is a hard motion, because people who serve in conflict will bear it for the rest of their lives, even if they bear no physical scars. And if, as a nation, we ask people to do this most terrible of things on our behalf, we have a duty to ensure that our Government — not just our charities — honour and look after those who are harmed by their service.”

The former senior chaplain for the Army in Wales, the Revd Steven Griffith (Swansea & Brecon), said that there was now significantly more chaplaincy cover for members of the armed forces in service than in the past. However, “the problem is when you come back from an operational tour, you come home and there is nothing”.

The motion was carried unanimously

That the Governing Body, believing that the commitment of men and women who serve in the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom merits a reciprocal obligation to ensure that both they and their families are not disadvantaged:
(a) invite the Bench of Bishops to endorse the Armed Forces Covenant, supporting the Governing Body’s commitment to the pastoral and spiritual support of the Armed Forces Community comprising serving personnel, regulars and reservists, veterans and military families;

(b) ask individual dioceses to reflect on the Armed Forces Covenant and to consider signing Community Covenants and Corporate Covenants setting out the provisions for the pastoral and spiritual needs of the Armed Forces Community in their own diocesan area; and

(c) ask the Standing Committee to review the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant across the Church in Wales and to report to the Governing Body in two years’ time.

 

Eco Church

 

A RESOLUTION on climate change was described by the Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, as “a clear and simple motion with measurable steps”. Supported by the Church in Wales’s Church Action for Sustaining the Environment (CHASE) group, he moved a motion calling on the six dioceses to secure the environmental group A Rocha’s Eco Diocese award by September 2020.

The award scheme was “intended to engage church people in care for creation across five key areas of church life: worship and teaching, management of church buildings, management of church land, community and global engagement, and our lifestyle”, he said; and registration as an Eco Church or Eco Diocese was “the start of a journey” and “a commitment to be part of this process”.

Seconding the motion, the Revd Dominic McClean (Bangor) said that being an Eco Church not only had an impact on the environment but also on the community. His church had installed ground-source heating, which meant that “the church was always warm, 24-hours a day, seven days a week,” so that it could be used for a range of community uses. The change also gave “the opportunity to get rid of all the pews, because we had to lift the whole of the floor and replace them with things that could be moved, so the thing was far more flexible as a space”.

Not all changes had to be significant, however: churches could adopt simple measures, such as providing a collection point for used batteries.

CHURCH IN WALESLandscaping in East Anglia; Sandra Ward

Sandra Ward (Bangor) had worked in landscaping in East Anglia and had developed plans for churchyards, including wildflower areas. “I don’t think there is any church that couldn’t have that sort of plan,” she said. She welcomed a booklet of suggestions from the diocese of Bangor. “If every church in Wales did just one of these suggestions, we could make a huge difference.”

With one abstention, the motion was agreed:

That the Governing Body recognise the importance of caring for God’s creation, both as an essential part of the stewardship of our own resources, and as part of our mission to the world:

(i) through CHASE members and others, promote A Rocha’s Eco Church and Eco Diocese scheme across the Church in Wales;

(ii) secure Eco Diocese award registration for each diocese by September 2020;

and
(iii) receive periodic progress reports from CHASE

 

Parish share

 

THE Church in Wales should consider reducing or suspending its parish share in its 2020 centenary year, the Revd Haydn England-Simon (Llandaff) said, referring to the biblical principle of the “Year of Jubilee”.

In response to a report by the Representative Body (the trustees of the Church in Wales), he said: “We should consider using that money to celebrate our jubilee. The money could be used in three different ways: ministry, mission, and maintenance.”

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, warned against the move. There was “a danger of being self-generous and blind to the needs of others”, he said. Discussions were continuing about the establishment of a long-term project in the jubilee year, which would probably entail a partnership with Christian Aid in support of refugees from Syria.

The Chairman of the Representative Body, James Turner, said that the level of parish share was a matter for dioceses, not the Governing Body. The Representative Body contributed about one third of diocesan expenditure, he said, and the Parish Share was the “principal source” of the £11-million annual budget for stipends.

 

Statistics

AVERAGE Sunday Attendance in the Church in Wales has continued to fall, according to a report on membership and finances. The year-on-year figure showed a further decline of two per cent, taking the average to 28,291. Easter communicants were down six per cent to 48,112, whereas Christmas communicants had risen by two per cent to 50,593.

The numbers on electoral rolls and for occasional offices also showed decline: baptisms down eight per cent to 6192 and confirmations down 21 per cent to 872. Last year, the Governing Body received the report “with a heavy heart” after an amendment proposed by the Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) (News, 23 September 2016). This year, he said: “In some parts of this Province we are still looking, primarily, to simply structural reorganisation to dig us out of the hole that we are in.”

He said that much that he had said last year had been welcomed; but his suggestion that the Church should start to “cut out its dead wood” had been “met with a stony silence”. He urged the Church to “stop giving time, effort, energy, and money to that which has failed”.

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