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Church in Wales humbler but richer, says retiring Archbishop

16 April 2021


Archbishop John Davies on 18 March

Archbishop John Davies on 18 March

THE Church in Wales now has a place at the table in a variety of places in the public square, the retiring Archbishop, the Most Revd John Davies, told the Governing Body in a final address from Brecon Cathedral at the close of its two-day online meeting on Thursday.

It was there when issues such as environmental danger, social justice, poverty, medical and social ethics, and other pressing issues were debated and discussed, he said, “not because we want to lecture others about what they should be doing, but because we can contribute credibly, compassionately, and carefully in the name of him who came that all might have abundance of life”.

The Archbishop was frank, however, about the acknowledged failure of the Church yet to realise the vision of Judge John Bankes in 1917, at the time of the framing of its first constitution: a Church “ faithful to Wales, adaptable and agile, properly resourced, broad in its theology, traditions, opinions and practices, outward looking and welcoming, gender-equal, ethnically equal, where clergy were appropriately and sufficiently paid and where the role of the laity was fully accredited and valued”.

The Church had been envisioned as “a missionary Church that will realise that the great bulk of the population never enter any place of worship at all, and live their lives entirely untouched by any religious influence”, Archbishop Davies told the Governing Body.

“I have a sense that we are still some way from completing either the task or the journey that he envisaged, and that we have not always been sufficiently committed to making the amount of progress which we might.”

It was only recently, he said, “that we have begun to take concrete steps to fully grasp that vision”. The Church had faced the fact that “we have sometimes been too easy-going in our approach, failing to keep alive the vision that Bankes so clearly articulated”.

The Archbishop voiced his frustration that some of the Church’s internal governance structures and procedures remained, in places, “unnecessarily clumsy, complex, and slow, and that some of them are such that they can be, and have been, causes of division and hurt as well as potentially stifling of initiative and progress, and many others recognise that there is some duplication which results in poor use, even waste of resources”.

He affirmed that these things were now not only being recognised but being addressed — along with “more contemporary and deeply troubling ones with additional, external dimensions, which had to be addressed urgently and fully, among them our approach to safeguarding. Much is being done to improve the church’s policy, procedures, practice, guidelines, and training. There is much, much more to be done.

“There have been too many instances in the past when we have failed in this important area, and this has caused reputational damage and, much more shamefully, has had devastating consequences for victims and survivors of abuse.” He announced that the Church had a new director of safeguarding, appointed last week.

The Archbishop rejoiced, however, that there were real positives and a joyful sense that Bankes’s vision was being revived. The Church was now ready to recognise the reality of the weakness of its position, and where it actually stood in relation to its influence on Wales as a nation and on its people. There was also joy in the model of “shared gifts, pooled talents, and working together”.

He rejoiced, too, that the leading of worship and the practice of pastoral care was “no longer confined to those in clerical collars”. He noted the increasingly rich treasury of the liturgical worship resources, old and new, on which to draw. He called for proper support and resourcing across the province of St Padarn’s Institute.

The Church was also awakening to the need to turn more and more habitual attenders or gatherers into reverent worshippers and growing disciples, he said, “rather than taking church life for granted while simply waiting for those others to come — they won’t, because we can seem too introvert and uninteresting, and, frankly, a bit odd”.

He continued: “There must also be joy that we admit the hurt we have caused and are now ready to reach out to some in our midst and in our communities who have been made to feel unwanted, excluded, and unwelcome because we have not understood them, talking about them instead of to them. They must not be shut out any longer.”

He gave thanks for the privilege of having served the Church in Wales as a layman, a deacon, a priest, a Bishop, and an Archbishop. “My prayer and hope for you and for the whole Church in Wales springs from those words of St Paul: that we might grow in an ever-deepening, radically inclusive love for each other and for those not yet a part of us.

“If that might be so, Christ will accomplish through every one of you more than any others can ever ask or imagine.”

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