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Church in Wales Governing Body: Self-assessment commended, but not an independent commission

15 September 2023

The Governing Body of the Church in Wales met last week in Newport. Pat Ashworth reports

Church in Wales

The Revd Dr Jonathon Wright (Swansea & Brecon)

The Revd Dr Jonathon Wright (Swansea & Brecon)

Mission and ministry areas.

THE Governing Body rejected the proposal of an independent review of mission and ministry areas on the Wednesday.

The Revd Dr Jonathon Wright (Swansea & Brecon) brought a motion seeking the establishment, authorisation, and empowerment of an independent commission to undertake a complete and thorough examination of mission and ministry areas in every diocese, to be completed within 12 months.

Such a review would determine their general state, especially their impact on average Sunday attendance of adults and children, weekly attendance, electoral roll, and finance.

It would also encourage a common life across the six dioceses, promote best practice, and address “structural, personnel, and financial issues that are undermining the ministry and mission and ministry of the Church in Wales at the local level”, he said. An independent successor commission would continue the monitoring of and reporting on the development of ministry areas over the next ten years, “with a view to ensuring ongoing adjustment to fit the ever-changing cultural climate in which the Church in Wales ministers”.

Dr Wright said that such a commission would seek quantitative data and a qualitative assessment of the life of the local church. “No strategic overview has taken place,” he said. “It is time to learn internally from each other in order to help shape the next phase in the evolution of mission areas.”

Large chunks of the new funding would be spent through ministry areas, he said. “As churches recovering after Covid, our aspirational, larger needs should be tested empirically. It would allow for greater accountability.”

The Revd Sam Aldred (Swansea & Brecon), seconding the motion, described Dr Wright as “forensic in his analysis”, not someone who was seen as narrow or party-political: “someone wanting every one of us in the Church in Wales to flourish. We should not be afraid to examine where things are not working as well as where they are working.”

The Revd James Henley (Monmouth) then moved an amendment to replace an independent commission with a self-evaluation exercise in the dioceses. He welcomed the advent of the Learning Community as an important next stage. “An in-depth commission would take time and cost money. We cannot outsource our collective responsibility to evaluate and discuss how the Holy Spirit is moving us forward,” he said.

Ian Hibble (Llandaff) thought that the proposed commission would be proportionate and timely, a basis for good governance in mission and ministry Areas. “We need a better understanding of how things are working.” Speakers acknowledged that the Harries report of 2012 had also been an independent review.

The Revd Kate O’Sullivan (Monmouth) suggested that there should be a template in the annual report which encouraged self-reflection.

The Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd Mary Stallard, was strongly in favour of the amendment. Four months into her time in Llandaff, she had perceived that this was “a time of evolution and not revolution”. Who would be an independent commissioner, she asked. “Is it genuinely independent? And our statistics are not great.”

With lunch beckoning at this point, the meeting had to make a swift decision whether to vote then on the amendment, or to adjourn and continue after lunch. The vote took place then, and the amendment was carried. The debate on the motion as amended by Mr Henley continued after lunch.

Sarah Mulcahy (Monmouth) felt that the timing of a commission was wrong: “We are still feeling the after-effects of the Harries report.”

Jonathan Sadler (co-opted) said that the amended motion now amounted to nothing. “Why are we voting for nothing?” he asked. The Revd Lance Sharpe (Swansea & Brecon) said that the fundamental nature of the motion had changed. “You don’t need an amended motion to mark your own homework.”

The Archbishop did not agree that the amended motion amounted to nothing. The Learning Community was “a structured opportunity to listen to one another”, he said. “It is a new thing for us: a healthy wider development in the life of the Church.”

The Revd Mark Thomas (Swansea & Brecon) considered that it had been a mistake to vote on the amendment. “It is an alternative path. We need the best structure for every church in every church’s unique context,” he said. “I share the deep concern of many of churches in danger of extinction, some more critically so. . .

“Every church needs every support. The one-shape-fits-all is far too simple for the diversity of our context. For many, it is hindering church growth. A review would have helped us to have a nuanced conversation.”

The Dean of Newport, the Very Revd Ian Black (Elected Deans), advised, “Don’t underestimate just what the Covid pandemic has done to the churches and the whole of our life. We are in a period of huge social change. We have no statistics we can really relate to. The first baseline statistics will be of the current year. I have sympathy for review, but we are in such a massive state of flux.”

The amended motion was carried by simple majority.

The motion reads: 

This Governing Body:
a) commends self-evaluation within dioceses and the sharing of good practice across the Province;
b) welcomes the Archbishop’s steps to establish a Learning Community to aid our reflection;
c) directs the Standing Committee, following the first meeting of the Learning Community this autumn, to develop proposals to broaden and embed robust methods for diocesan self-evaluation and provincial collaboration.

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