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Church in Wales must campaign against ‘indefensible abuse’ of rivers, says Archbishop John

18 April 2024

It must also defend the suffering and the marginalised, he tells Governing Body

Church in Wales

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John

THE Church in Wales must continue its “ministry of accompanying” people who are suffering, its defence of the marginalised, and its campaign against the “indefensible abuse” of the environment, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, has said.

He was delivering his presidential address at the Church’s two-day Governing Body in Newport, on Wednesday. The Church’s independence gave it freedom to speak out on important issues, he told the members.

“We are not an NGO nor an arm of government. . . So, we will speak out about xenophobia wherever we see it. We will speak out about refugees. We will always speak out in support of the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalised, and the oppressed. Kingdom values compel us to speak.”

Archbishop John called in particular for a halt to the “indefensible abuse” of the illegal disposal of raw sewage in waterways.

“Our rivers are dying,” he said. “Even as sections of our farming communities are underpaid and undervalued, intensive farming practices, promoted by unsustainable food production systems, are poisoning rivers with excess fertiliser and animal waste — witness the tragic situation in the Wye Valley.

“All of us — including the industry, regulators, government and local authorities — must play a part in halting this indefensible abuse of the most essential element of life.” The Archbishop referred to a summit, Restoring Welsh Rivers, to be hosted by the Church in Wales in November. This, he said, would “seek to create a consensus and momentum for change”.

The topic of “Restoring Welsh waterways” was due to be discussed yesterday, with presentations by the chief executive of River Action, James Wallace, and the associate director of the Bangor Wetlands Group, Dr Christian Dunn.

The Church’s primary task, however, was to “be the eucharistic community”, Archbishop John told the meeting, “worshipping God and bearing witness to the gospel. In this sense, our task remains unchanging across the generations. We are here for God’s sake and for the world.”

Earlier in his address, he had described this task as a “ministry of accompanying” — through times of loss and heartache. He paid tribute to work of clergy, licensed lay ministers, and others in this area.

In the context of the theme of his address — radical uncertainty — the Archbishop spoke of the Church’s need to “learn, develop, and grow” within its inherited tradition. “When change becomes normative and less predicated on what has happened previously, this makes for greater uncertainty,” he said.

“If the Church is going to serve each part of Wales, it must learn it cannot be one thing only: a single model with little scope to adapt, hoping that its reputation, presence, and former practices will guarantee strong and ongoing interaction with others. Governing Body will know that we are trying to learn together differently and well so that we can be the Church for this and future generations.”

Restructuring the Church from single parishes to larger ministry and mission areas, however differently they were configured in each diocese, had meant that the church community could “do more, better, together”, “build a better collegiality”, and learn “to be courageous and to take risks”, Archbishop John said.

“The expectation that clergy are the jack of all trades who ‘do’ the ministry won’t work, and, in truth, never did. The ministry of the many — ordained, licensed, commissioned, and the gifted disciples of Christ — makes for a more complete, biblical, and rounded model of servant ministry.”

It was a journey, he said. “Not everything we try is going to work, but playing it completely safe certainly won’t work. ‘Football is a mistakes game. Without mistakes, you can’t play it,’ said the Liverpool manager. And that’s true for churches, too. The risk-takers rather than the overly cautious were commended in the parable of the talents.”

The Church had an opportunity to develop ministry from lived experience, he said, and needed to be able to “monitor both qualitative and quantitative inputs if we are to have any hope of seeing the seeing good outputs”. That could sound, he said, “overly businesslike and devoid of the kind of human dynamics which have been the lifeblood of our churches”, but imagining a good future for the Church was not about “constructing impossible dreams”.

Prayerfulness, shared faith in Christ, and learning to forgive and walk closely with God were the most important aspects of church life. “If we are to grow healing, healthy churches, we will need to become more resilient and robust in the ancient spiritual disciplines of the Church,” he said, pointing to the BBC’s latest Pilgrimage series (which followed celebrities on the North Wales Pilgrim Way) (Television, 12 April) as an example of a renewed interest in spirituality.

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