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Church in Wales Governing Body: Questions

26 April 2024

Church in Wales

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron

THERE was a record number of questions submitted — ten in all — leading the chair to suggest: “Perhaps democracy has arrived in the Church in Wales!”

Caroline White (Bangor) reminded the Governing Body that the five-year trial period of a liturgy to celebrate single-sex unions was now halfway through. “Does the Church in Wales hold any data, whether numerical or anecdotal, to indicate how this liturgy has been received and used?”

Sir Martin Donnelly (Swansea & Brecon) noted the same. He asked what information the bench had about its use, and whether discussions were taking place on the longer-term liturgical framework for a sustainable pastoral approach to same-sex partnerships or marriages.

Responding to both, the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, confirmed that the bishops had made it clear in 2021 that this was only a transitional measure, and that the review of the rites would have to follow. The current bench was not undertaking any formal review of discussion as to the next steps, and so there had been no gathering of any formal statistics yet.

“Our understanding is that a small but steady stream of same-sex couples have availed themselves of the right,” he said. “We think about two dozen in the two-and-a-half years, but there may well be many more. They have given very positive accounts of the blessing itself, and the warmth of support from family friends, clergy, and congregations.” It could also be the case, the Bishop said, that several same-sex couples were waiting until a marriage service became available to them.

Sir Martin requested that the issue might be regarded as core business for the GB on this theme, “so that we can all reflect on and consider and have wider debate before we come to specific discussion on whatever we want to do”.

Susan Rivers and Gwendoline Treherne (Llandaff) wanted to know what progress, if any, had been made by the Church in Wales in addressing the Welsh government’s Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence strategy.

The Archbishop, in reply, commended in particular the work of the Mothers’ Union in raising awareness of the issues, and the good practices that it had adopted. The Safeguarding Committee was already addressing this, and the need for new guidance. One approach was a new bespoke training module authorised for abuse-related casework.

Mrs Rivers noted that gender-based violence and domestic abuse continued. “One in four women in our church congregations will experience it in their lifetime, but only two in seven feel the Church is there to support them,” she said. Llandaff had produced a Welsh version of the guidance.

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis (Bangor) submitted his question in both English and Welsh. “Does the Church in Wales keep any records of how many active clergy are able to take services fluently and preach in Welsh?” What support was given to those coming from other provinces to learn Welsh, and was there a timescale for that? What funding was provided for ministers to receive Welsh-language training, and what was expected to happen if someone required a service in Welsh, and the team in a ministry and mission area was unable to provide it? How often had another minister needed to be brought in to enable Welsh to be used?

The Bishop of St Davids, the Rt Revd Dorrien Davies, responded in Welsh. He concluded: “The Welsh language and bilingualism is a very important part of our teaching and how we reach out to people pastorally.” He encouraged everyone, especially those preparing for ordination, to learn the language, enabling them to bring the comfort of the gospel to those who wanted to hear it in their own language

Mr Ellis reiterated encouragement to all to be able to minister in both languages.

The Revd James Henley (Monmouth) observed that many of the ministry and mission areas now employed paid staff, for administration, as musicians, or as lay church workers. To receive the necessary HR and legal advice to fulfil their responsibilities as employers, several areas had had to pay private consultancy firms for the service.

He wanted to know how the Representative Body (RB) might be able to support them in this. Might it be possible to provide a standard HR manual to ministry areas, comprising the necessary basic policies and procedures, alongside an advice service?

Professor Medwin Hughes, who chairs the RB, said: “This goes to the heart of how we resource the Church and acknowledge the pressures on the clergy.” The traditional structure was not designed to support mission and ministry areas, he said. “We need to examine these needs and design a model to support the clergy. It needs a collective will and the ability to be flexible: some things can be done at provincial level, others locally. We could be better together. We should.”

But clergy would soon be able to have access to a dedicated officer when circumstances required it: a small beginning, as the HR team was just four people, but good news. It was charged with conducting strategies across the province. “It will require extensive work and consultation, and it won’t happen overnight, but we are taking steps to deliver long-term solutions, acknowledging the pressure on clergy in mission and ministry areas. An HR manual needed compiling while this work was taking place: “We hope that can be disseminated before the next meeting in September.”

Christopher Dearden (Bangor) reflected that the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) had now in effect pulled out of Wales, having made its Wales regional officer redundant last year. Local branches had almost completely vanished, leaving the RSCM seemingly “an England-focused organisation unable to reflect the language, culture, and liturgy of Anglican worship in Wales. How can the Church in Wales increase our support for music-making among congregations, choirs, worship bands, and schools?” he asked.

In reply, the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Lomas, described the RSCM as “a resource I have held dear for many years”. He confirmed that all regional officers had been made redundant the previous year, not just in Wales. The RSCM remained a valuable resource, and had increased its online training programmes.

He noted that the bench had agreed to breathe new life into church music, and urged support and encouragement for church choirs, and affiliation to the RSCM. Churches with limited musical and financial resources would benefit the most from affiliation.

Mr Dearden said that the majority of the candidates for confirmation at Bangor Cathedral were choristers. “Music is very much part of the Welsh life,” he said, acknowledging this to be a difficult time for music generally — witness the withdrawal of funding to the Welsh National Opera. “And music needs work, particularly in outreach in schools,” he said. “It is more important than ever for people to make music in praise of God.”

Ian Hibble (Llandaff) asked what proposals had been developed by the Standing Committee to “provide robust methods of diocesan self-evaluation and provincial collaboration regarding the development, impact, and outcomes of ministry/mission areas”. Also, how had the Learning Communities established by the Archbishop of Wales aided reflection on ministry/mission areas?

A self-evaluation tool would have to have core and consistency to be of value to the Church, the Archbishop responded. There were different variations in government arrangements in the diocese. “The initial focus will be how mission and ministry areas are functioning — how our attendance figures are being managed and sustained,” he suggested. “That’s a work in progress now, to go out to the areas in the summer.” He urged all ministry areas to complete the survey, as this would provide the details needed.

Mr Hibble said that he had found experiences of ministry areas to be quite varied: some were a good model, others had poor governance and leadership. “We should work better together, but learning quickly from where we are making mistakes, and making changes accordingly.”

The Revd Dr Jonathon Wright (Swansea & Brecon) had noticed the announcement over the past year of a number of points to the Representative Body, including at the director level. How had these appointments affected the RB’s headcount? How would these appointments support the life of local churches; and, if so, how would this be measured?

Professor Hughes said that this was a key question relating to relationship between the centre and the dioceses. The RB had 116 staff in total, in the areas of operations, mission strategy, legal safeguarding, and data protection, and St Padarn’s. Of the two directors, one was a new post, and the other was a job-title change. “The only rule of the Representative Body is to listen carefully to the Governing Body and the needs of the diocese,” he said.

Moira Randall (co-opted) thought all would agree that investment in mission and ministry to children and young people was vital to their Church’s future, but, given that congregations throughout the province were “ageing”, what resources was the Church investing in supporting their needs, particularly those who found attendance at regular service difficult or impossible? Was the Church in Wales accompanying and championing the Anna chaplains whom she was aware were active in this particular area of mission and ministry in parts of the province?

The Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann, said that the churches were aware of people who used to be regular attenders, but could no longer attend or fully participate. “Some may have been stalwarts of the congregation — they remain part of the body of Christ,” she said.

“At a time when we could be tempted to focus on children and young people to an extent that older people feel sidelined or forgotten, it’s incumbent on all of us to look at this.” Visiting had been an important ministry, exercised for many years by pastoral visitors: “Church members can be commissioned to do this role. We have endorsed this, and encourage people to do so. They offer an essential ministry.” That had been demonstrated when the Church in Wales invested in it through St Padarn’s: 48 people applied for 20 places, and there would be 20 again in June this year. “It’s a hopeful picture to build on in the future.”

Ian Loynd (Monmouth) recognised the importance of the Church’s net-zero commitment, but asked whether, given its limited resources, the Governing Body had considered that the impact of the actions required by dioceses, ministry areas, and churches distracted from the primary priority of growing the church?

The Archbishop spoke of the need for the Church to to set an example of net-zero practice, “to give us the right to speak out on those issues”. Social justice was of particular significance to young people, he said. Mr Loynd conceded that “we all have a part to play,” but regretted that the resources for bringing about radical change were non-existent, locally; there was a need for it to be financially managed provincially.

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