Variations to the liturgy – Church in Wales

Earlier this year, members of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales were updated on the proposed “Bill to Authorise and Regulate Minor Variations to Authorised Liturgies”. This “seeks to clarify the canon law surrounding variations within the liturgical life of the Church in Wales by specifying the nature and extent that clergy may authorise or adopt…variations”. The Bill was accompanied an Explanatory Memorandum.


The Church in Wales introduced the revised Book of Common Prayer in 1984; this currently includes a number of alternative rites which have been authorized by legislation passed by the Governing Body. Subsequently, supplemental liturgical material has also been commissioned by the Bench of Bishops from the Standing Liturgical Advisory Commission, either by way of seasonal material which could be used to enhance the experience of the use of liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer with the consent of Governing Body, or by way of occasional liturgies for use on specific occasions or in specific contexts by use of their existing ius liturgicum (a bishop’s right to order liturgical life in their diocese, subject to the law of the Church in Wales).

More recently a question has arisen concerning the extent of variation to the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer that may be used in connection with such material, and the lawfulness of any such variations, mindful that all clergy promise at their institution or licensing to use only those “forms of service which are allowed by lawful authority”.


The Procedure is set out in sections 27 to 32 of Chapter II of the Constitution. The Bill was presented to the Standing Committee, who having been satisfied that it is ‘in order’, issued a bilingual version to all members of the Governing Body together with the Explanatory Memorandum. Any member of the Governing Body may move an amendment to the Bill provided that written notice of any such amendment is given to the Secretary of the Governing Body within three months immediately following publication of the Bill. A Select Committee has been appointed “for the purpose of considering and collating any amendments which members of the Governing Body may wish to move to the Bill”.

The deadline for the submission of amendments is 23 October 2021. It is intended that the Select Committee will complete its work in time for the Standing Committee to receive its Report in February 2022 so that the Bill can be brought to the Governing Body in April 2022.

The Bill 

The Bill is addressed to Clerics, who are defined in Clause 7, i.e.

“a ‘Cleric having the cure of souls’ means a Cleric who is an Incumbent, a Priest in Charge, a Rector or Vicar in a Rectorial Benefice, or a licensed Cleric granted a cure of souls or particular pastoral responsibility for a church in their licence.”

They “may in their discretion make and use minor variations in any authorised form of service according to particular circumstances and may authorise other officiating ministers to use such variations at any church within their cure” (Clause 1).  All such variations in forms of service “must be reverent and seemly and must be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church in Wales” (Clause 2).

Apart from variations authorized under Clause 3, (by the Governing Body (by motion) or the Order of Bishops), the Diocesan Bishop is empowered to determine whether any variation meets these criteria (Clause 4(a),(b)), “and the minister shall obey the direction of the Diocesan Bishop in this regard”, (Clause 4(c)). Crucially, Clause 5 places certain limits on the permission given in Clause 1 by excluding matters of explicit doctrinal import, or material within experimental rites: “No variation to any form of service (or part thereof) listed in the Appendix may be deemed a minor variation unless the variation has been commended in accordance with section 3 of this Canon”; the Appendix lists:

  • All authorised Baptism Services: The baptismal formula;
  • All authorised Marriage Services: Marriage Vows;
  • All authorised Eucharists/Services of Holy Communion: From the Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts”) until the conclusion of the distribution of Holy Communion;
  • Any form of service authorised for an experimental period: Entirety.

However, nothing in the proposed Canon “shall affect the existing powers of a Diocesan Bishop to make liturgical provision for occasions for which no provision is made in the Book of Common Prayer” (Clause 6).


There are clear parallels with the Church of England “B” – Canons on Divine service and the administration of the sacraments and in particular Canon B 5 Of the discretion of ministers in conduct of public prayer, in which  “[t]he minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of service authorized by Canon B 1 according to particular circumstances”.

We will follow the developments in the Church in Wales with interest.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Variations to the liturgy – Church in Wales" in Law & Religion UK, 20 September 2021,

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