Following an independent ‘root and branch’ review of its activities, the Church in Wales published its vision for its future, Arolwg yr Eglwys yng Nghymru / Church in Wales Review on 20 July, recommending ‘supersize parishes run by teams of vicars and lay people; creative ideas for ensuring churches stay at the heart of their communities; and investing further in ministry to young people’. The Review Group benefitted from a high level of expertise from: management guru, Professor Charles Handy; the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who chaired the group; and Professor Patricia Peattie, first chairwoman of the Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust and former Chair of the Episcopal Church in Scotland’s Standing Committee.
The Group was set up following the September 2010 meeting of the Governing Body at which it was agreed:
‘The Church in Wales cannot go on doing the same things in the same way; some things need to change and we are open to – and indeed encourage – that possibility’.
All six dioceses were visited, and meetings held with the Bishop and diocesan team in addition to an open meeting for Church members to express their views. The Group also met: the Governing Body and Standing Committee; the Bench of Bishops; the Representative Body; and the staff and students at St Michael’s College, Llandaff, the all-party theological college serving the Anglican and Methodist Churches and the work of chaplaincy in partnership with Cardiff University. A special meeting was held to listen to the concerns of a representative group of young Church members.
In all the Review Group heard the views of over 1,000 members of the Church in Wales, and over 200 written submissions. The Church’s Governing Body will now consider the Report and its 50 recommendations which include:
Replacement of parishes by much larger ‘ministry areas’, served by a team of clergy and lay people, which mirror the catchment areas of secondary schools, where possible;
Creative use of church buildings to enable them to be used by the whole community;
Training lay people to play a greater part in church leadership;
Investing more in ministry for young people;
-Developing new forms of worship to reach out to those unfamiliar with church services;
Encouraging financial giving to the church through tithing.
Whilst the report is specific to the Church in Wales, many of the symptoms underlying the review are present, to a greater or lesser degree, to the Church of England. It states:
‘Many people we met are conscious of the statistics that prompted the setting up of this review group in the first place: the expected retirement of large numbers of clergy in the next few years, the shortage of ordinands, the joining of more parishes than can be adequately ministered to by a single priest, declining church membership and the almost total distance of young people . . . . . from the church’, [Section 2, para. 2, page 2]
In addition, it concludes that:
‘the parish system, as originally set up, with a single priest serving a small community is no longer sustainable. It was put in place when people lived and worked in the same parish, when they did not travel except occasionally to the local market town and when it was assumed that church and nation were of one faith’, [Section 6, para. 1, page 6].
However, the Report also highlights areas in which there are differences from the Church of England:
‘Unlike other churches in the Anglican Communion it does not have a fully developed system of synodical government. This may save it from some of the cumbersomeness of the system, as experienced elsewhere, but it means that there is no proper flow of ideas and resolutions from parish or deanery to Diocese and from there to the Governing Body and the Representative Body’, [Section 5, page 4],
‘Deaneries, as at present constituted, are not always a natural geographical unit. Where they are, then a Deanery may prove to be a good basis for a new Ministry Area. However, with the development of ministry areas, deaneries as we know them will cease to have a role and should then no longer have a place in the structures’, [Recommendation IV, page 8],
but most importantly,
‘Suspending parishes in the Church in Wales is a much easier matter, legally, than it is in the Church of England’, [Section 6, page 6].
There is clearly much for those within both Churches to consider.