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Welsh Governing Body: new thinking urged on evangelism

21 September 2018

Tim Wyatt reports from the meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales


Members of the Governing Body raise their voting cards in the air

Members of the Governing Body raise their voting cards in the air

THE Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, presented a new report on “healthy and joyful mission”, which proposed a series of “disciplines”: “Even if we can’t provide a single blueprint for the whole Province, or imagine there is only one way to do evangelism, we can commit to do things differently,” he said.

The report had been prompted by a report in 2016 on the statistics of decline in the Church in Wales; three groups set up as a result — the Pioneer Network, the Evangelism Network, and the Church Growth Group — were then amalgamated into one, last year, to produce this report.

Creative and effective evangelism was not rocket science, Bishop John said. “The life and vitality of the local Christian community is the most significant thing of all. If the local congregation loves God, it will show.” As well as urging a renewed commitment to prioritising witness, he said, sharing things which had worked elsewhere was also central to the Church’s plans.

To that end, he introduced a new video, produced by the provincial office, which highlighted six projects — one in each diocese — of innovative evangelism. These included a youth lounge, established with the help of the Church Army; a puppet show for children and adults; a tea party for the elderly; a fresh expression of church centred on building community at a farmers’ market; and a faith tent at Cardiff Pride, run by a parish nearby.

Life was more complex now, and mission therefore needed to break out of the stale old methodologies, Bishop John explained. Using the established Sunday service would not be sufficient outreach any more, he said, and dioceses should be bold in breaking out of the “inherited structures”: “We need to accelerate the mixed economy of church.”

CHURCH IN WALESThe Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John

In 2019, everyone working in pioneer ministry in the Church in Wales will gather for a conference to try to build pioneering into the DNA of every parish. The signs were not all bad: there had already been an encouraging rise in midweek attendance, Bishop John reported, much of which was not simply transferred from Sundays, but new Christian community. There had also been a “gentle increase” of the numbers of under-18s involved in the Church.

The Representative Body had also created a £10-million Evangelism Fund which dioceses could bid for to finance new evangelistic projects, partly copied from the Church of England’s Strategic Development Funding. This money was not for filling in the holes of church finances, but explicitly for new witnessing initiatives, he said, noting that, since it had been announced, he had been inundated with messages from old friends wanting to “touch base”. “It’s not a fund for all and sundry, but a significant release to stimulate witness.”

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, recalled how, at a Sunday school, he had had to battle with his parish to release more money for new evangelism initiatives. “Please don’t give up,” he said. “Never ever give up.”

The Revd Steven Bunting (Swansea & Brecon) recounted a series of projects that his own church was involved in, from candlelit marriage-preparation courses to providing food during school holidays for children who relied on free school meals. His parish was growing, slowly, but what “paralysed” them was the huge building which they could not afford to maintain, and a crippling parish-share payment. The Church needed to examine how to support congregations in deprived areas so they could launch into mission without worrying about losing their building or clergy, or paying their parish share.

The Revd Naomi Starkey (Bangor) spoke of the importance of discipling church members so that they realised that they needed to get stuck into mission. Too many still conceived of church as something that one purely received from, and only the clergy did the work. She also urged the Governing Body to take the time to learn from other denominations that were successful in getting younger people involved with church.

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis (Bangor) warned that too many people were content with non-Christian activities around church. In his largest church, 20 people attended on a Sunday, but more than 60 came every Tuesday to knit poppies for a Remembrance Day artwork. Despite his efforts, none of them had shown any interest in coming on a Sunday, and those that did were ill-equipped to speak about their faith to their friends. “For my people to come with me, we need far more resources to enable them to share their faith, so they can join in inviting others,” he said.

The Revd Dr Adrian Morgan (co-opted) said that, despite his repeatedly emphasising the centrality of Jesus to the Christian life, it remained “abnormal” for many of his parishioners to open their Bibles, pray together, and “do the basic bread-and-butter stuff of Christian living”. The Church needed to be more “intentional” in how it sought to equip its members to encounter Jesus for themselves, as well as share their faith with others.

The Bishop of St Davids, the Rt Revd Joanna Penberthy, encouraged the Governing Body to pray for evangelism also, recounting how she came to faith by stumbling into a service of evensong — but this was because her family had been praying for her. “It’s about the power of God working in the lives of people, not how many things we can put on.”

Annabelle Elletson (Swansea & Brecon) questioned whether the minimum grant offered by the Evangelism Fund needed to be as much as £250,000. “You can do an awful lot with just £100,000,” she said, particularly in a smaller church.

The Revd Adam Pawley (St Asaph) said that it was good to see in the video people who were enthusiastic about sharing their faith, but asked whether they could also amplify the stories of those who had actually come to faith because of an evangelistic project at a Welsh church.

The Revd Dean Roberts (co-opted) spoke of how he longed for another revival in Wales, a nation that had had no less than 23 such awakenings before. He reported on how his churches were experimenting: by moving Messy Church to a weekday after school rather than Sunday, and by trying out non-eucharistic services rather than relying on communion by extension. But there were also challenges: one of his churches had up-to-date screens to display the words of songs, but still no running water or lavatories, meaning that parents had to change their babies’ nappies on the floor under the church tower.

The Revd Dr Harri Williams (St Davids) asked whether more could be done for those, like him, who celebrated the sacramental life and had seen it lead to church growth. Could there also be resources for specifically Anglo-Catholic mission and evangelism, he asked.

Dr Robert Wilkinson (St Davids) reminded the Governing Body of the importance of ensuring that all groups of people were included in church, such as young families, and those in wheelchairs with impaired vision. He asked: Were church buildings friendly to such people, and were congregations being empowered to fund any necessary changes?

Canon Peter Brooks (Swansea & Brecon) urged the Church to remind itself what its unique selling point, or USP, was, and always to play to its strengths. “We should have confidence in our core business, which is Jesus.”

Canon Mounes Farah (St Davids) encouraged parishes not to assume that people would come to them, but to go out to where the non-Christians in their community were already meeting, whether that was a cycling club or a school governing body. “We’re asking people to come and do churchy stuff, but it’s better to get involved with where culture is.”

The Revd David Morris (Llandaff) shared a story of evangelistic failure in his parish: they had tried to set up a dementia café for the elderly, but no one wanted to attend. Despite the lack of success, it was still a useful and formative experience for his congregation, and it was important to remember that not all initiatives will succeed; but that did not mean that churches should not try.

Ros Crawford (St Asaph) said that it was vital that people heard the good news in language they could understand, rather than churchy jargon.

The Revd Joel Barder (St Asaph) said that most churches that were growing in Wales were Free Churches, including one in his benefice. How can Anglicans in Wales be equipped to talk to, and learn from, Non conformist success stories, he asked.

Motion was carried nem. con.: That the Governing Body do welcome, affirm and endorse the Report of the Evangelism, Pioneer Ministry and Church Growth Group and take note of the Membership and Finance Report.

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