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Church in Wales: more work to do on gender parity

10 May 2019

Tim Wyatt reports from the Welsh Governing Body in Cardiff

church in wales

Sir Paul Silk (left) is questioned about evangelism by Paul Murray

Sir Paul Silk (left) is questioned about evangelism by Paul Murray

Representation of women

THE Church in Wales has given itself another target to aim for on improving its gender balance, deciding to report back in 2025 on progress made towards boosting the presence of women throughout Church structures.

Dr Gill Todd, who chairs the standing committee’s working group on the representation of women, introduced the latest report, 13 years after the working group first began to review the place of women in the Church. Her team, she said, had been “challenged and excited” by the changes that had taken place since 2006, both in the Church and in society.

When this work began, the focus was on improving numbers of women in senior positions, whereas today it had expanded to include discussion of biases, the #MeToo movement, and training for leadership. Nevertheless, significant progress had been made: there were two women bishops, four women archdeacons, and two cathedral deans. These trailblazers were expected to “influence the Province towards continuing to developing a culture of inclusion, and one which embraces and is proud of its diversity”, Dr Todd said.

One of the main changes in the equality agenda since the working group began was the recognition that change needed to not just increase representation but create an environment whereby men and women were “equally proud to identify with the issue”. To this end, a charity had been founded — MAECymru — to push towards ending all gender discrimination in the Church in Wales.

Although the latest report built only on recommendations from 2015, some dioceses had not yet fully embraced those older recommendations. Nevertheless, all had made progress in the past four years, Dr Todd said — progress which was summarised in the appendices of the full report. One key task for the Church was to ensure that there was provision for men and women who had family commitments to still be able to fulfil their vocations, whether as clergy or lay leaders.

All cathedrals should have a clergy team that demonstrated how men and women could work together in ministry, she said. Training against gender bias should become mandatory for all clergy, ordinands, lay leaders, and members of church committees, Dr Todd also suggested.

The 1984 Prayer Book should be used with sensitivity, given that some of its language was not inclusive; and the Church should establish a confidential helpline for anyone who was the victim of “unacceptable behaviour”, she said.

“There is still work to do to implement more transparent, inclusive, and fairer working at every level in the Church in Wales,” Dr Todd said. “The Church must continue to transform into a body that can use the gifts of all its people to the full. This is a goal which is exciting and easily achievable.”

The Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne, spoke to propose the motion formally, and thank Dr Todd and her team. Quoting St Paul, she reminded the Governing Body that there was neither male nor female, but all believers were “one in Christ Jesus”.

“If we endorse this motion we would be agreeing that our integrity as a Church depends on this agenda for action.” The Church in Wales was tainted by bias and injustice, like so many other organisations, and needed to be “grown up” about the steps necessary to take to tackle this. This Lent, she had instituted the first ever woman team rector in the diocese of Llandaff, and, next week, she would install the first ordained woman residentiary canon at Llandaff Cathedral. “Our Church is richer for these changes.”

James Turner, who chairs the Representative Body, then moved an amendment that added a clause to request a further report on progress from the working group in 2025. Significant progress had been made, he said, but the Church needed a goal to aim for. His amendment was easily carried.

Annabelle Elletson (Swansea & Brecon) then rose to suggest an amendment to the amended motion, which would bring forward the date for the next report to 2021. The amendment fell (36 in favour, 73 against, 3 abstentions).

The Revd Joel Barder (St Davids) said that he struggled to agree with the motion because it was unclear whether it sought for women equality of opportunity or equality of outcome.

Sue Last (St Asaph) said that, of course, people should be elected or appointed to posts based on their ability only, but progress had not been swift enough. She said that the 2025 target was useful.

The Revd Josh Maynard (St Davids) admitted to confusion over this issue. He thought that the Church was supposed to be seeing beyond gender, and yet throughout the report it was celebrated that more women had been appointed to key posts. “The whole thing seems fairly contradictory to me.”

The Revd Naomi Starkey (Bangor) suggested that each diocese should appoint a dean for women’s ministry, to ensure that the issue did not slip down the agenda.

Jennie Willson (St Asaph) asked whether someone could be given the responsibility for explaining why the Church in Wales did not have a 50/50 split in gender. She also encouraged bodies and groups that did not currently have any women on them, such as cathedral chapters, to consider inviting in a woman, to provide a female perspective. For too long, she argued, people in the Church had got away without any discipline or consequences for discriminating against women.

Canon Dylan Williams (Bangor) said that, while it was clear that things had moved on since 2006, not enough progress had been made. “There is something out of place in the culture of the Church,” he said. “I would go as far as to say we are suffering from some kind of spiritual ill health in that regard.” He would vote for all the recommendations in the report, but asked whether they were too timid and failed to attack the heart of the problem.

The Revd Richard Wood (Bangor) agreed, and said that the recommendations on how to deal with discriminatory and inappropriate behaviour were “nowhere near strong enough”. There needed to be sanctions and discipline for wrongdoing, not simply pastoral support for those victimised by it.

Richard Beard (Monmouth) said that it was “unacceptable” in 2019 for the Church’s senior ranks to be so dominated by men. “Why do we have so many structures where we say we appoint the best person for the job, but the best person often looks like the best man. Why do we keep doing this?” Most of those in congregations were women, but the organisation was led by men. Most stipendiary posts went to male clergy, while most unpaid positions went to women, he noted. “There must be a change. I would like to urge you to vote for this as part of that change.”

The Revd Mark Owen (Monmouth) said that he was not opposed to the motion, but asked whether the report might be biased. He and other clergy he knew had experienced bullying, but by female, not male, priests. Did the survey that the working group had carried out want to know about bullying which came from women rather than targeting women?

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis (Bangor) said that the Church was still struggling to live up to its inclusive foundational texts in the New Testament. “We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there,” he said.

Replying to the debate, Bishop Osborne said that she welcomed Mr Turner’s amendment to keep the issue under scrutiny. “Hopefully, we will not hear somebody say at that stage we are in a state of spiritual ill-health over this issue,” she said. Tackling questions of forced gender balance, she said that she had never come across any woman who wanted positive discrimination, which was, in any event, illegal in the UK. “It was never an aspiration that women should be appointed except on merit.” The task before the Church in Wales, however, was not just about spiritual character and attitudes, but structural solution, too.

Dr Todd said that the report had looked at what was preventing women from experiencing equality of opportunity, such as bias or difficulties with part-time training; so it was not fair to say that the report solely looked at raw numbers of women in posts. She had never sought a pure 50/50 split, but, if the balance of skills was roughly equivalent for women, they should expect to see the gender balance in the Church much closer to 50/50 than it currently was.

The following motion was carried, with 12 abstentions:

That the Governing Body:

(i) receive and welcome the Report of the Working Group on Representation of Women in the Church in Wales dated May 2019 and endorse the recommendations therein;

(ii) recognise that the equality agenda is the responsibility of the whole Church;

(iii) commend the Report to the Province, dioceses, and ministry/mission areas for study and appropriate action, and request each diocesan Standing Committee to monitor progress in their diocese;

(iv) request the standing committee initiate a further report from the working group in 2025.


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