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Church in Wales puts tackling climate crisis at heart of strategy  

06 September 2023

Archbishop of Wales addresses the Church’s Governing Body

Church in Wales

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John

THE ability of the Church in Wales to bring people together in good conversation and partnership should never be underestimated, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, told the Church’s Governing Body on Tuesday.

In a presidential address that drew parallels with the story of Nehemiah, and focused on challenge and opportunity, he announced the Church’s hosting of a two-day all-Wales climate summit in the second part of next year. It will draw together academics, activists, pressure groups, and stakeholders to discuss the health of the country’s waterways, and the impact of industry, agriculture, and residential domestic use on its landscape.

Wales had the opportunity to redesign its approach to energy, water, land use, and the sustainability of food supply at every level, Archbishop John said. “We are not the experts, save we know what good signposting looks like, and what human flourishing involves. We have a role as people of neutrality that invites confidence.

“Our capacity and commitment to show what human society could look like is well understood and appreciated. We have seen that church must mean much more than gathering and breaking bread on Sunday; that our commitment to justice, to the creation, to the poor might take us into uncomfortable places. That is what the Kingdom of God invites and involves.”

The Archbishop reminded the Governing Body of the Church’s climate-change goals. In what he described as “a major, major development and act of public witness”, it had disinvested from fossil fuels two years ago, and had put in place a ten-point plan to help it to reach net zero.

But, he said, fewer than ten per cent of churches had completed the Energy Footprint Tool (News, 14 April): “an easy action for churches to take, but a vital one, as it shows us where we are and how we could get to where we want to be”. The Archbishop challenged the others to complete the action by Christmas.

In the context of ministry, he identified as one of the challenges the recruitment of “people with the capacity, the skills, the heart and mind to work with us in what is an exciting but demanding enterprise”. He spoke of institutions as “by their very nature, creating inertia”, and lamented: “There was a time when colleges of higher education, universities, and other Christian foundations all produced a significant number of vocations — and to diverse ministries, too.

“This is less so today. A provincial strategy for recruitment appears critical if we are to find the numbers of pioneers, licensed lay ministers, and others to work with us.” He spoke of “growing a new caucus of leaders to break new ground with us”, and went on to say: “[Mission and Ministry Areas] allow us to do together what we could not do apart. They invite the co-operation of clergy and laity, who serve in teams in a way that has not been structured before nor provided for nationally.”

Archbishop John expanded on the new funding announced at the Governing Body’s last autumn meeting: the release of £100 million from capital reserves over the next decade to help churches to serve their communities more effectively (News, 9 September 2022).

It was for breaking new ground in terms of evangelism. Bids from the dioceses “must retain that essential character of witnessing to the good news in Jesus Christ. This might be from within the Ministry Area and opportunities which arise week by week through baptisms, funerals, or weddings; they might be pioneering, or even church-planting. Some will be a direct expression of diocesan plans,” he said.

“A mixed ecology of outreach is going to be contextually significant and provide a much better base from which to share hope than a single form of outreach. But all must align to, and sit within, the broader strategic objectives of the diocese.”

He also outlined the functions of a new “listen-and-learn exercise”: the Diocesan/Provincial Learning Community, bringing together contributors from cathedrals, urban and rural contexts, and church-planting so that best practice could be pooled.

He acknowledged: “There hasn’t been this kind of structured co-operation previously which allows us to share the things which have worked and where difficulties and challenges have been faced. Our history has not always involved healthy competition marked by generous sharing and honesty.

“A new culture of support for one another across the diocese should become normative, and not exceptional, from across the Province.”

The Governing Body’s two-day meeting, at the International Convention Centre in Newport, opened on Tuesday. The agenda includes opportunities to hear from the new Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, Trinity St David, Professor Elwen Evans; and the Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union, Sheran Harper.

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