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Church in Wales Governing Body: Agenda set out, but so many exhausted

15 September 2023

Church in Wales

Canon Jason Bray (St Asaph)

Canon Jason Bray (St Asaph)

Priorities

UPDATES were received by the Governing Body on the Church Growth Fund Allocation Group, the Distribution of Funds Review Group, and the Priorities Working Group. Tim Llewelyn (St Davids) spoke on behalf of the latter group, which has been formulating a set of proposed priorities for the Church.

He named these as:

  • the revitalisation and renewal of the Church in Wales;
  • building trusting, affirming, kind, undefended church-family relationships;
  • simplicity and clarity in all our structures, processes, and communications;
  • listening attentively to our (local) mission and ministry areas about what they need in order to thrive; and
  • creating safe spaces for reflective conversations in which candour and transparency are valued, and competitiveness, rivalry, and suspicion and fear of others are strongly discouraged.

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, reported on behalf of the Church Growth Fund Allocation Group, describing the decision to draw on reserves as “a significant and substantial financial investment”. Recipients of the new funding — £100 million from reserves over the next decade — would be expected to be fully accountable, and would be asked to have a pilot project as a first stage of the process.

The group had identified areas of evangelism, ranging from the potential of regular activities, worship, and offices in churches on Sundays and midweek, to pioneer ministry and fresh expressions, church-planting, commemorative-style gatherings, life events, and gatherings of more societal or national significance, in which the Church in Wales was “a presence and a space recognised as different from others”.

He reiterated: “It isn’t just about large-scale, blockbuster projects. Day-to-day things can be immensely evangelistic.” He confirmed that “After a thorough and rigorous process, we are very close to starting operating.”

Professor Medwin Hughes reported on the Distribution of Funds Review Group, describing it as “an extraordinarily difficult and complex exercise to ensure fairness across the diocese”. Should criteria take into consideration population levels, socio-economic factors, the number of open churches?

It was split funding; so part of the money was allocated by formula, and part not, to ensure that all dioceses started on common ground. “We now have a full set of proposals. We are all very much aware of the need for preparing 2024 budgets,” he said

Dr Heather Payne (Llandaff), was keen to have discussion about the format of meetings in the context of the governance structures of the Church in Wales: how did it work, and “how is it seen by our electors?”

Discussion groups followed. The Lay Secretary, Simon Lloyd, gave a summary of the feedback at a plenary session on Wednesday. The groups had first been asked about their expectations of being on the Governing Body, and what it should “stop, start, or continue doing”.

Feedback was generally positive: members identified “a sense of being family”; the conclusion was: “We have become quite good at disagreeing well.” Face-to-face meetings, post-Covid, were highly valued, and discussion was welcomed as creative.

An important question was reaction to the priorities for the Church as set out by the Archbishop the previous day. More reference to God was suggested: “God doesn’t appear in the priorities at the moment.” There was some suggestion that they sounded more like value statements than priorities; maybe “fewer words and more memorable”, it was suggested.

A key conviction in response to how the dioceses could best support mission and ministry areas was: “Priests should be allowed to be priests, and administrators to be administrators.” The diocese should support ministry areas “in the worship they are good at”, and were advised: “Don’t over-complicate things.”

On the subject of church growth, one comment was: “Every time there’s a new initiative, it adds to a job list that is already full. How do we move on from being on the back foot? We are asking too much of people who are already busy.” There were “too many buildings and a danger of planting projects that are not going to be sustainable when the money runs out”.

In the subsequent debate, the Revd Sam Aldred (Swansea & Brecon) wanted to reflect on confidence. “There’s a sense that we have lost our confidence as a Church,” he suggested. “We should not paddle in the shallows, but dive in to the deep riches of our faith.”

The Dean of St Davids, the Very Revd Dr Sarah Rowland Jones (Elected Deans), wanted “a more imaginative and rooted-in-reality treatment of statistics — something much more nuanced”. A “25-per-cent drop in attendance” could simply represent a family that was now coming to church on three Sundays in the month rather than four.

The Revd Kate O’Sullivan (Monmouth) said that clergy and congregations were still recovering from Covid. “We are exhausted. I hear a lot of clergy saying they are exhausted. Most of those I know are on anti-depressants,” she said. “The laity are trying to do everything while working full-time; this needs addressing.” Clergy needed an extra day off: “If we have an exhausted clergy and laity, how are we ever going to do this stuff?”

Canon Jason Bray (St Asaph) raised the issue of buildings. He would like the Representative Body rather than the churches themselves’ becoming responsible for these. He spoke in the context of St Giles’s, Wrexham, “a whopping great building with a leaky roof needing £300,000 pounds to repair”, of which the church itself would have to find half. This was “a hard call” when trying to run a growing congregation with a limited number of volunteers.

Dr Payne wondered how outcomes might be measured: “Bums on pews? Priests not on sick leave? Culture? Spirituality?”

Hannah Rowan (co-opted) felt that it would have been helpful to have seen the priorities in advance. “We need greater accountability for the process towards outcomes,” she said. “Moving towards what we think we need is a lovely thing.”

Anthony Mullins (Llandaff) described his sadness at being “blanked” in some quarters after his positive contribution in the same-sex-marriage debate. He urged: “Respect other people’s opinion. [Let it be a case of] ‘Meet me in the bar and I’ll buy you a pint.’”

Celine Cuddihy, a Pioneer Evangelist in Haverfordwest (St Davids), said: “We should be activists for what is in our hearts. We risk getting really lost in our causes, and not leading people to Jesus as the answer. We need to acknowledge our need of God.”

Cathryn Brooker (Monmouth), said that the laity as well as the clergy were very overworked. She emphasised: “If we want to grow, we must be relevant to the outside world.”

Melody Lewis (St Asaph) was one of several contributors under the age of 30. She wanted to see more inclusive language in the liturgy, and found some of the language relating to those outside the Church, such as “the faithless”, in that morning’s reading, “terrible”.

The Revd Justin Groves (Monmouth) reflected that, when people outside the Church expressed an opinion: “It is that the Church is desperately trying to stay afloat, scrabbling about for survival, keeping the show on the road, making sure the Church in Wales has a future. We want the Church in Wales to be known for its great generosity, loving and caring for the world in which we live — not talking about ourselves yet again.”

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