EVANGELISM and mission dominated the meeting of the Church in Wales’s Governing Body (GB) in Cardiff last weekend.
The decision to focus on evangelism was taken after a debate on falling attendance figures at the Lampeter meeting last September, when a motion affirming that the Governing Body had taken note of a stark report on the subject was amended to show that they had taken note “with a heavy heart” (News, 23 September 2016).
The President of the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, introduced the theme in his presidential address. He said that “our tried, tested, and continuing pattern of church life, whilst commonly comprising the usual and the familiar, is evidently not delivering often enough what it should: a regular influx of new disciples.”
He told members that the Church needed to start by looking at itself as it prepared for the centenary of disestablishment in 2020. “We need to become, afresh, a Jesus movement. But — and this is a big ‘but’ — we have to begin with ourselves; we have to re-evangelise our life, because unless we really know what we are about, unless we really are fit for purpose, there is little point in trying to reach out to others and to invite them in. . .
“My message, my friends, is don’t keep calm and carry on, but be positive and reach out to new things, sharing and using the blessings you have.”
MOVING a report and motion from the Provincial Evangelism Group, the Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andrew John, said that this was the moment that the Church moved from a heavy heart to a hopeful one; but it needed to develop a culture of storytelling. “We have forgotten that we are people of Good News. If we don’t proclaim it, then who else is going to do that?”
Seconding the motion, the Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) said that evangelism should run through the Church as “Blackpool” or “Barry Island” ran through a stick of rock. “This is the work of the whole Church,” he said, “not just those called to this specific ministry.”
The ministry-area development officer for the diocese of Llandaff, Mark Brampton, said that the new mission-and-ministry area structures being developed by the Church were already having a positive impact. There had been an average decline in attendance of five per cent in churches where clergy had one church or three churches, and two per cent where clergy had two churches. But, in the new ministry areas, the rate of decline was lower, at one per cent.
The Principal of the new St Padern’s Institute for theological training, the Revd Dr Jeremy Duff, said that evangelism had been incorporated into the new training regime: there were core modules on mission, in the first year, and evangelism, in the second year, for full-time ordinands.
The Archdeacon of Newport, the Ven. Jonathan Williams (Monmouth), said that church members should “spend some time thinking about what your gospel is” so that they could provide a positive answer when somebody asked “Why do you go to church?”
He said that answers to that question which included “nice people, lovely surroundings, and nice coffee” were insufficient, because “you can get all that at Costa.”
The Revd Harri Williams (St Davids) explained how a “Thursday at Seven” group enabled members of his congregation to deepen their faith by experiencing liturgy from different traditions, including Taizé, compline, healing and wholeness services, and visits to other churches. He credited this group with raising his weekly attendance by 50 per cent over four years.
The Revd James Henley (co-opted, Monmouth) described the motion as a “no brainer”. “There is no question that we will choose to support it. The question is whether we will choose to implement it.”
The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis (Bangor) emphasised the significance of the debate. “If we pass this motion, we commit ourselves to nothing less than cultural change in the Church in Wales.”
Jennie Wilson (St Asaph) was concerned that “we discuss it here, and then we ignore it and it goes away.” She called for the Church in Wales to have a “watching brief” on evangelism, with stories about its success being heard regularly not just in the Governing Body, but in all of the Church’s structures.
The Governing Body unanimously approved the motion:
That the Governing Body:
(i) affirm the central place of evangelism in church life;
(ii) support the training and resourcing in evangelism;
a. as a requirement for all clergy;
b. as available to all laity;
(iii) endorse strategic planning for evangelism in the Church in Wales to include:
a. the development of the Provincial and Diocesan Evangelism Groups,
b. the release of some clergy and laity to prioritise evangelism,
c. the establishment and resourcing of local nurture groups,
(iv) commit the Church to a season of prayer for evangelism, beginning with Thy Kingdom Come 2017.