THE Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, has praised clergy in the Church in Wales for having “held their nerve” during the Covid pandemic and become “light on their feet, discovering new and innovative ways to care for others”.
The Bishop, who is President of the Governing Body, also praised congregations, “who have shown the power of love in action at a community level. We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts and say how proud we are of what you have given in the service of Christ. Thank you.”
He described the pandemic as the most significant event to affect humanity since the Second World War. “The impact on our economy and national well-being has been profound,” he said. “It is perhaps too early to understand and describe completely how life is being reshaped, whether in the workplace, our communities, or even the effect on the global economy. The landscape of life is changing, and, to use the words of St John, admittedly entirely out of context, it is not yet clear what we will become.”
Bishop John spoke of the changed context of ministry, including the emergence of new ways of being church, such as online worship. “We are wondering what to take with us on the next stage of our journey, and what to lay down. We are conscious that the numbers of those who worship in person might be fewer than was the case pre-Covid, and that a diminished base of support will ask new questions about our mission, property, and finance.
“But external stimuli have always shaped Christian purpose and polity: the persecution of the Early Church led to the first missionary journeys, and the demand of new tasks led to the calling of the first deacons. What is significant has never been the size of the challenge, but the scale of the faithful response.”
He described the task as deeply missional. The debate that was about to follow on same-sex blessings was “fundamentally about whether we want to shape that life to be bigger and better so that fewer people feel unable to believe and more feel invited to truly belong”.
The Bishop acknowledged that the change in polity would be painful for some of his colleagues. “Such a novel development will be regarded as an aberration, a departure. And, thus regarded, it would be considered an act of disobedience. To depart from Christ’s word is to depart from Christ.” But he described every development as to some degree a departure.
“The ‘authority of the eternal yesterday’ must not be a millstone around our necks, but provide a basis for a courageous embrace of what God is doing in the world around us. Mission always lies at the heart of faith, and being alive to God, to what might happen next, is part of remaining curious and open to new opportunity.”
He also spoke about some of the questions emerging about structural change, and the systems and culture in which the Church operated; still other questions were “profoundly spiritual and existential: will we plan for a future believing that the gospel is the power of God for salvation? Will we front-load our finances and priorities with the transforming power of God at the forefront of our thinking? And will we align our finances to our hopes?”
He suggested that where other Provinces were debating the future of the parish system, the via media of the Church in Wales “offers us a way of approaching this matter. The Mission and Ministry Area platforms allow us to utilise all that is good in the parochial model: the importance of buildings, diversity of worship, and teams of lay and ordained co-operating.
“As diverse expressions of church become more normal, there will be new questions still about how we grow vocations — to the priesthood, and also lay leaders, who will offer the support and direction needed. But we ought to be in no doubt that the hybrid, mixed ecology — or economy — of church life is here to stay, and is across the whole of Wales.”
The Bishop ended by reiterating the words that, he believed, set both the tone and direction that the Church in Wales needed: “What is significant has never been the size of the challenge, but the scale of the faithful response.”