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Monday, 15 October 2012

Church in Wales looks to Nonconformists in survival plan

In concert: Tabernacle Chapel, Morriston - 'The Cathedral of Welsh Non-Conformity'

Wales has effectively been a Nonconformist country since the mid nineteenth century but the Church in Wales has maintained a parish system for the hundred years since disestablishment - until now. The 'independent' Review led by the Archbishop's old friend Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, recently came up with a plan to abandon parishes in favour of ministry areas. On Saturday came news that Churches and chapels in Wales are being asked to discuss radical proposals which could result in closer unity. Proposals on the agenda include a new kind of bishop and a single "United Church for Wales" in which there would be an interchange of ordained ministries by those with church or chapel backgrounds. Five denominations - including the Church in Wales, Presbyterians and Methodists - could ultimately share bishops, ministers and buildings. If given the go-ahead, a new breed of bishops would be created and be interchangeable between all denominations in the united group. Ordained ministers would also be free to serve in all churches and chapels in the Church Uniting in Wales.

Now one might be forgiven for concluding that this plan may have been uppermost in the mind of the Archbishop while using the convenient conclusions of the Harries Review to nudge unsuspecting congregations in a predetermined direction. Concerns have been expressed about an indecent haste in trying to implement the recommendations of the Harries Review before they have been properly considered. Forward in Faith (Wales) reports: "The reaction to the Church in Wales Review leaves plenty of us with great concerns. At one meeting recently an Archdeacon reminded those present that at this stage the question should be: do we agree that ministry areas need to be created? and then how do we do it? Not vice versa. In some areas of the Review suggestions are quoted as giving permission for a new development without the necessary agreement of those involved. Some dioceses also seem to be moving ahead in a piecemeal fashion. This cannot be good for the unity of the church."

Unity as he sees it is close to the heart of the Archbishop of Wales. He has refused to secure a future for members belonging to the catholic tradition who would value the prospect of unity with the wider Apostolic Church of East and West on the grounds that the unity of the Church in Wales would be threatened! He argues that to appoint a bishop or bishops with jurisdiction for those opposed to the ordination of women would "alter irreparably the Church in Wales as we know it. It would be to sanction schism and for these theological reasons the bishops, as guardians of unity, could not give their support for such a measure." - Excuse me?

There have already been calls for the Church of England to decide whether it is a Catholic or Protestant body. The latest move by the Church in Wales makes their position abundantly clear. No wonder Anglo-Catholics have constantly to struggle against the tide of liberalism which has overtaken their church. Like headless chickens Dr Morgan and his bishops have tried everything to reverse the decline of the Church in Wales except the blindingly obvious, neatly summed up by Damian Thompson here. Over the years I have encountered many Nonconformists who have been brought to the Anglican faith through the awe of sacramental worship, perhaps no more important a figure than the present Archbishop of Canterbury who, according to Rupert Shortt's biography Rowan's Rule, changed his allegiance from the Presbyterian Church after visiting All Saints, Oystermouth: All Saints' provided the classic, moderately high church diet known as Prayer Book Catholicism. Preaching and musical standards were high; incense would make its appearance on major feast days. This was far richer than Park End Chapel [in Cardiff]. John Walters, Rowan's oldest friend, later quipped that the Williamses were like the Russian envoys in medieval Constantinople who felt transported to heaven by the splendours of Byzantine worship and quickly decided that Christianity should become the new faith of the Slavs [p.32].

All that has changed. As Anglo-Catholics continue to be marginalised much of the mystery of Anglican worship has ebbed away. So have congregations. As costs escalate, maintaining the 'parish share' with declining numbers becomes increasingly difficult as is the cost of maintaining a top-heavy structure. With no parish ties in the future and Anglican services becoming increasingly reminiscent of politically correct school assemblies, local self-supporting chapels will have an increasing appeal for those who are left. As one adherent with a liking for good Welsh hymn singing put it to me, "Rousing hymns with a good gossip afterwards; there's nothing like it".

Readers with access to BBC Wales will be able to watch the latest reality show this evening at 10.35pm, Vicar Academy. The mind boggles.


  1. joseph Golightly15 October 2012 at 13:53

    I think deep down you know the answer. As has been said RITA!

  2. joseph Golightly15 October 2012 at 14:14

    Please listen to Bishop John Hind. A good exposition of what Catholic means

    1. Thank you Joseph. I hope the other bishops listen too.

  3. Bishop John Hind was, as he usually is, inspirational. I heard his talk but I think it is something one needs to read to take it all in. The idea of a "new" sort of Bishop is confusing - I thought the Church in Wales had decided that women bishops were the answer to all their problems. Are the new sort, who are to be all things to all denominations to be episcopally consecrated? Or is the Church in Wales taking another step down the road of abandoning sacramental assurance?

    1. I would assume the latter Father. I can't imagine even Barry Morgan trying the former.
      He lost the first vote for women bishops through his intransigence in not appointing a replacement Provincial Assistant Bishop. Insiders say that while there is still a majority in favour of women bishops they still want provision for those not in favour. Barry's idea of provision is for the existing bishops to provide pastoral and sacramental oversight which is unacceptable since they have strayed from the faith and tradition of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic church.
      In England WATCH made a big thing about nonconformist equivalents
      I don't know what the position is in Wales but if a woman equivalent can be found Dr Morgan may be able to achieve his cherished ambition of a woman 'bishop' by the back door. Par for the course!

    2. PS Background to Covenanted Churches in Wales here:

  4. Dear Ancient Briton
    Yes, I did look at BBC Wales 'Vicar Academy' on Monday.

    My thoughts? 'Houston we have a problem'.

    1. You should find this clip more uplifting Enforcer

    2. If I may be permitted to respond Ancient Briton.

      Bazzar should not forget the lesson learnt by the ancient see of St Davids. Female Pola Bear's are very high on maintainance.