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Tread carefully Syria, Welsh Governing Body warns

20 April 2018


The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, chairs the emergency debate on the proposed airstrikes against Syria

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, chairs the emergency debate on the proposed airstrikes against Syria

Syrian airstrikes

THE Governing Body of the Church in Wales urged the Government to prioritise diplomacy over airstrikes as it wrestled with how to respond to the chemical weapons attack in Syria.

After an emergency debate that was hastily added to the end of its meeting on Thursday of last week, the Governing Body passed almost unanimously a motion which expressed regret over a potential “escalation of violence”, while condemning the chlorine gas attack against civilians in Eastern Ghouta.

Introducing the debate, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, reminded the members that, in his presidential address the previous day, he had instructed the Church in Wales to speak up in the public square with “courage”.

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, proposed the motion. “We would be missing a huge opportunity and a huge necessity indeed, not to speak out on what is happening in Syria at the moment,” he said.

All Christians should be alarmed at the prospect of a “proxy war” between world powers in Syria. The situation on the ground was very complex, he said, noting that Syrian Christian friends of his were, on the whole, supportive of President Assad, who, they believed, was protecting them from Islamist extremists.

The Revd Joel Barder (St Davids) noted that, in Israel, Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust memorial day, was on the same day as the debate. The fact that during the Holocaust the world stood by without intervening was a source of “great pain” to this day for many. “We need to bear that in mind as we see the images of children and adults who have been attacked by their government. We need to bear that in mind in our prayers,” he said.

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis (Bangor) praised the motion for holding together the need for the Church to respond to the situation, to support those involved in any action, and to pray for fellow Christians inside Syria. The war there was not simple: he, too, knew Christians in Syria who did not see Assad as a monster, and the rebels fighting him had also committed atrocities, he said.

Helen Biggin (Llandaff) called on Christians everywhere to pray both for those involved in the negotiations and decisions and for the innocent people of Syria. This was echoed by the Revd Richard Wood (Bangor), who suggested that a particular Sunday could be set aside to encourage everyone in the Church in Wales to pray in solidarity with Syria.

In conclusion, Bishop Cameron urged every member of the Governing Body not to let their actions stop after the vote, but to take the issue back to their parishes and to continue to pray.

The Governing Body then put the motion to the vote, where it was passed almost unanimously in a show of hands.

That the Governing Body:

  1. Note with alarm the return of to the international agenda of the possibility of heavy bombardment and violent intervention in the situation in Syria;
  2. While condemning the use of chemical weapons, are mindful of the complexities of the situation which rule out simplistic answers;
  3. Call upon the UK Government to prioritise concerted diplomatic action to secure more peaceful and consensual international responses rather than an escalation of violence.

 RITCHIE CRAVEN/CHURCH IN WALESBishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, delivering an update on evangelism in the Church in Wales

Evangelism and Mission update

THE Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, briefly updated the Governing Body on work under way to sharpen the Church’s evangelistic efforts. Three working groups — on church growth, pioneer ministries, and evangelism — had now been merged into a single body to focus minds on this topic, he said. A report, A Framework for Healthy and Joyful Mission, was being prepared by this group with some specific recommendations for the Church.

“We ought not to doubt the capacity of the local church, well-resourced and inspired, to be a bearer of good news in our local communities,” he said. One such recommendation was that every ministry area should establish a pioneering project or minister, while the central Church would work on producing more helpful statistics to track “genuine growth”.

Other avenues being explored were: better exporting of successful models of chaplaincy across Wales, strengthening evangelism training for ministers, and learning from para-Church organisations such as CPAS or Church Army. Finally, a series of films would be commissioned to share encouraging and inspiring stories where mission had worked well across the Church.

A full debate on the working group’s recommendations would be held at the next meeting of the Governing Body in September.

RITCHIE CRAVEN/CHURCH IN WALESThe Dean of Monmouth, the Very Revd Lister Tonge, introducing the debate on a new constitution for Newport Cathedral

Cathedral reforms approved

SWEEPING reforms to how Newport Cathedral was governed were approved by the Governing Body after a short debate on Wednesday morning.

Introducing the issue, the Dean of Monmouth, the Very Revd Lister Tonge, explained that, although St Woolos’s had become a full cathedral in the 1940s, many in its congregation considered it to be a “Sunday clubhouse” for them, not a true cathedral for the city and diocese.

Elections to the PCC ran effectively as a “rotten borough” to maintain the congregation’s control over the building, and Dean Tonge had even heard one prominent worshipper describe a diocesan ordination service which took place at the cathedral as “the descent of the great unwashed”.

But things had changed: the cathedral, which sits on the tallest hill in Newport, now acts a beacon for the diocese to the community. It houses the homeless in winter, reaches out to the poor, and the use of the building had doubled in the past two years alone.

To maintain this turnaround, governance changes, mostly related to the division of responsibilities between the PCC of St Woolos’s and the cathedral Chapter, needed to be made, Dean Tonge said. “It seems to be a move towards wisdom, and what the gospel seeks to do, which is address people where they are, and not where they aren’t,” he concluded.

During the short debate, all the speakers affirmed their support for the experimental reorganisation — which would be reviewed after three years — and praised the changes already made at the cathedral.

“The people of the diocese and clerics of the diocese now feel as though it is almost home, which it has never felt before,” the Revd Mark Owen (Monmouth), said. 

Canon Anne Golledge (Monmouth), a member of the cathedral Chapter, said that she wholeheartedly backed the reforms. “It’s always been that rather special building at the top of the hill, but now it needs to be fit for purpose for the Church in the 21st century. That cathedral church is now very much part of the diocese as our mother church. We are now one big family together.”

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Richard Pain, paid tribute to Dean Tonge for his “vision” in transforming the life of the cathedral. “What he wants to do is to make the cathedral fit for purpose for the mission of the Church in the diocese of Monmouth. Thank you, Lister, for your endeavours and vision. I also endorse and recommend this scheme 100 per cent.”

The motion was passed unanimously.

That the Governing Body, in accordance with recommendation 3 of the Report of the Standing Committee approved in September 2017:

  1. Note the Newport Cathedral Constitution and Regulations dated 13 March 2018;
  2. Give permission for the experimental Constitution and Regulations to be used in Newport Cathedral for an initial period of 3 years, the time and date of commencement to be determined by the Dean and Chapter; and
  3. Request for a progress report after 2 years from its commencement date.

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