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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Church in Wales

Church in Wales bishops applaud the election of the first woman bishop     Source: Church in Wales

Guest post from Retired and Relieved.

[This entry was originally submitted as a series of comments under the previous entry which have been combined into a single entry. AB]

Sorry this is only tenuously linked to Una Kroll, but I was at a certain convent of Dr Kroll's acquaintance recently, where a group of former Church in Wales clergy (ie those now serving outside the Province) were meeting. They were being facilitated by a Welsh Anglican academic, and a copy of his paper was left lying around afterwards. It makes fascinating reading and, I think you'll agree, it was bang on the nail. The sentient passage is quite long, so I'll send it in sections. But there is clearly some thinking going on by the exiled about what the future of the Church in Wales will be - and they obviously don't like the Barry Morgan years. So here's the first bit with the rest to follow in about 4 or 5 posts.

The most obvious problem with Barry Morgan’s archiepiscopate is that it has been obsessed (and I do not think this is putting it too strongly) with things that are ‘less than God’. Most obviously, those things are all related to the gender and sexual revolutions of the last few decades: matters about which Jesus spoke very little; and matters from which the rest of the world moved-on long ago. The upshot is that, when Barry Morgan pontificates on the media about celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in Wales, or the consecration of a female Bishop of St Davids, wider society’s reaction is ‘So what’? It is just another sign that, theologically, he is still inhabiting the 1970s and fantasizing about being ‘radical’ when, in fact, he is just being off- base.

A post-Barry Morgan Bench is, perforce, going to be obsessed with ‘growth’ (a euphemism for managing the decline over which Barry Morgan has presided). This obsession is, ultimately, grounded in fear, and will come across as fire-fighting. It will do nothing to express the abundant generosity and wisdom of God to the wider world. It will simply be seen in terms of institutional survival – and that inspires nobody.

What the Bishops have failed to do is articulate a coherent vision, not about what Christianity is in general; but what Christianity means for the Welsh people at this point in our national life. I would like to see the Bishops make some arguments in particular: that Christianity is Truth with a capital T; that Christianity is from where all the benefits of our culture originate (including the benefits of science and technology); that the rapid growth and displacement of Christianity imperils all those benefits; and that Christianity is unique. This is not a recipe for arid fundamentalism. Rowan Williams did it (even by being clear that readings from the scriptures of other faiths had no place in Christian worship).

The paradox – the irony, even – is that the Bishops do not actually understand secular culture; and, because they operate within the terms of what they ‘understand’ to be secular culture, they seem almost afraid to say that religion is the principal glue that binds together a community. The Bishops seem oblivious to the fact that the fragmentation of our society stems directly from the breakdown of a shared Christian faith. This has not been helped by the over- inflated sense of importance attached to non-conformity in Wales and its inevitable implosion over the past half-Century (just think of how much dwindling resources have been invested in the CYTUN project over the past 20 years as the world continues to say ‘so what’?). The shoring-up of failed institutions is unlikely to inspire the Welsh people with a vision of God. Whatever you make of his mode of communication, Bishop David Jenkins did precisely that, and got society in general talking about God. Although he was less exciting, but widely trusted as an intellectual force-to-be reckoned-with, John Habgood did the same.

So has another, very different Bishop, soon to retire, whose Diocese has experienced consistent growth over the past 20 years, and who has not been afraid to say the kind of things the Welsh Bishops have cowered from saying. Richard Chartres of London is grounded in a theological tradition much richer and deeper than the liberal Protestantism of Barry Morgan and his Bench. He has not been afraid to draw on that deep well in renewing the people of God. He has doggedly refused to allow the gender and sexual revolutions to hijack the impetus of the Church’s proclamation, thus denying the Church’s internal politics the opportunity to undercut the more vital task of engaging with the questions wider society is actually asking. If that means being opaque about where he stands in relation to womens’ ordination, or the ordination of non-celibate gay clergy, so be it.

Remarkably, a liberal Protestant, Martyn Percy has posted 95 Theses to the English House of Bishops (as a response to Luther’s act of 1517), castigating them for their obsession with institutional survival. Unlike Barry Morgan, however, Percy recognizes the fundamental theological vocation of bishops and their spiritual responsibility to the nation. He quotes the Anglican divine, Evelyn Underhill, as saying that the people are hungry for God. If people in Wales want God, and recognize their need for God, where do they go as the Church in Wales becomes less of conspicuous presence in communities, with clergy who receive scant training and formation, and an erosion of confidence in the distinctive calling of the ordained? As Underhill so perceptively recognized ‘The real failures, difficulties and weaknesses of the Church are spiritual and can only be remedied by spiritual effort and sacrifice [...] her deepest need is a renewal, first in the clergy and through them in the laity; of the great Christian tradition of the inner life.’

I began by saying that the real problem with the Bench of Bishops is that they are not spiritually serious. The population at large sense this, and ignores them. Would that we had a proper prophet – not the social-justice facsimile of prophecy which so many liberal thinkers champion – but one who insists on the priority of the first commandment over all else, and works out, in fear and trembling, the implications for the decisions that we face as a nation today.

Such a person would never have got through the Barry Morgan-controlled selection process to become a Bishop, of course. As Kenneth Stevenson, the wonderfully rooted yet anarchic Bishop of Portsmouth, was fond of saying, ‘We are desperate for prophets and all we get is prefects.’

Except…except, after 20th January 2017, the Church in Wales has the opportunity to stand back, to ask focused questions about what it has been doing over the past decade-and-a-half, and discern what its priorities are for the years ahead. Would it be too much to ask that this task is not left to the Bishops alone? And would it be unreasonable to suggest that, instead of rushing to fill an episcopal vacancy with an all-too-predictable candidate (thus showing the people of Wales that institutional survival is paramount), the whole Church might just start asking what its ultimate purpose is, and what Wales needs from its Bishops in the future when it is hungry for God?
This is rooted in a profound malaise: the Bench of Bishops is not spiritually serious. That is to say they do not seem to believe that the substance of Christianity is, ultimately, a matter of eternal life and death. The Bishops seem to be preoccupied with exactly the same sort of social-justice- pleading, and managing an institution at a time of decline, that any other liberal atheist would be perfectly at home with. Consequently, the Bishops sound just like NHS or education executives. Except that their institution is of infinitely less concern to most people than schools, hospitals and universities.

Why would anyone put up with all the manifold nonsenses of the Church in Wales if there is no sense of fundamental importance beyond HR, finance, health and safety, safeguarding or equality issues?

The basic problem is that the Bishops are there precisely to articulate the Christian faith in the public sphere and – surely! – to run the risk of offending, inspiring, challenging and engaging the population at large when they do. With one obvious exception, I cannot see how any of the Bishops of the Church in Wales are capable of doing this. They are (mostly) ecclesiastical functionaries, chosen by Barry Morgan because they were unlikely to eclipse him in the public glare, or ever likely to challenge his secularizing agenda (whatever they may have once believed).

Postscript [02.02.2017]

In a comment from Retired and Relieved dated 19 January (below) reference was made to a letter published in the Church Times by the Revd Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin:

"Incidentally, if you saw Fr Thomas Watkin's searing letter in last week's Church Times, you will know that (on current form) the Bench is still behaving like a Medieval papacy and treating the rest of us like we don't matter. That has been the problem for far too long."

The Revd Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin is a highly respected NSM in the Church in Wales. He was successively lecturer, senior lecturer, reader and Professor in the Law School at the University of Wales, Cardiff. He was appointed foundation Professor of Law at the University of Wales, Bangor in 2004. He was acting as Legal Assistant to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales from 1981 until 1998. In April 2007 he became First Welsh Legislative Counsel, the legal officer principally responsible for drafting the legislative programme of the Welsh Assembly Government.

This is what he wrote to the Church Times.

Sir, - The Church in Wales Book of Common Prayer, enacted by various canons, declares that confirmation is a rite, and its rubrics provide that confirmation is generally necessary to receive holy communion. The Church's constitution provides that alterations to rites and discipline may be made only by canon.

The Welsh Bishops wish to allow those who have been baptised to receive the sacrament without need of confirmation. They are attempting to do this by pastoral letter, without any authorisation by canon. The Archbishop has written in this paper (Letters, 25 November) that the change makes confirmation "a service of response and commitment to God's grace given at baptism and at the eucharist for those who want to make such a commitment".

Baptism, as both he and the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon (Letters, 6 January) state, is to be the full rite of Christian initiation. Confirmation is to become an optional extra. Is not this an alteration to the rite and to the existing discipline?

When the Church of England relaxed its rules on admission to holy communion, it did so by Measure and canon. The Welsh Bishops state that they have legal advice assuring them that the "step does not require any change in the present Canon Law or Constitution of the Church in Wales". A polite request to make public that legal advice met with an equally polite refusal. That the alteration is controversial is clear from recent correspondence in these columns (Letters, 14 October and 23/30 December).

The procedure for enacting canons exists precisely to ensure that potentially controversial changes are subjected to scrutiny, deliberation, and debate by all orders within the Church. Regardless of one's views regarding Christian initiation, respect is due to the inclusiveness of such decision-making.

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon wrote of baptism as "birth into a family wherein all are welcome to be nourished by the sacramental family meal at the family table". The Bishops' actions make it plain that, once at the table, unless they are in episcopal orders, God's children are to be seen but not heard.


  1. Re retired and relieved.
    Thank you for this guest blog, Ancient Briton. Roll on the rest. Roll on! ' All encompassing with depth and discernment but above all with unwavering substance and resolute belief in the truth. That contribution begins and ends with God. As we step back in fresher air, we must let this past period of breath-taking deception, lies, naked power and at times blatant idolatry, we must let it go. "For Thine is the Kingdom....!" The minions, the acolytes and the suckers are about to lose their 'hero' but a feet of clay merchant, even in tatty archepiscopal form, cannot give true sustaining life unlike the Scriptures, the Sacraments and a living tradition in Him.
    The hours are ticking away to that point when we shall no longer be under the retiring Archbishop's spiritual authority. It will be like the lifting of a curse.

  2. I think something as substantial as this is bound to rattle a few cages. Partly because this is what SOME of the Archbishop's minions must be thinking (even those who have rushed into print with such gushing praise in recent weeks) and also because it lays bare the real issues, which are bound to be unsettling. What the author had in mind, or the clergy meeting to discuss this with him/her, we don't know. But this doesn't strike me as the usual reactionary bitching. That there are a group of people expressing concern at this level is a hopeful sign. There again, there are six people capable of scuppering it if they choose to revert to form, pull up the drawbridge and hunker down behind the defensive walls. As we are being told, there is a once in a generation opportunity here. But who is brave enough to grasp it?

  3. What an amazing article, and so very encouraging to those of us who thought we were the only ones with such thoughts.
    I think there have been prophets sent to the CiW and they have been chased off when they dare to speak up.
    The CiW never seems to look at where Churches are in growth and ask what they are doing. I know a certain large Church in Aberyswyth has been the butt of Bishops jokes for many years, yet sent 100 people into ordination and encouraged many many into Christianity, often young people.
    It is fascinating that the less Bishops spread the faith, the more the Queen seems to.
    I suspect the new Bishop of Llandaff is already chosen, as was St Davids..........

  4. Retired and Relieved19 January 2017 at 12:38

    My apologies to AB and to Thrupence: I simply meant that I would send the relevant paragraphs from the paper to AB in several 'comments' because the comment box only allows a certain number of characters per comment. There is a bit more to the paper, reflecting on context and recent writing. I won't send that because it is less pertinent to the discussion and it might also reveal the author's identity and those with whom the author was in discussion.

    I would add this, that the people involved were not 'rave in the nave' evangelicals nor 'biretta bearing' anglo catholics. From what I could see from the mix of male and female, they were intelligent and serious people asking where the C in W goes from here - and will the bishops have the guts to admit they have been too accommodating of the Archbishop's 'project' at the cost of all else.

    Incidentally, if you saw Fr Thomas Watkin's searing letter in last week's Church Times, you will know that (on current form) the Bench is still behaving like a Medieval papacy and treating the rest of us like we don't matter. That has been the problem for far too long.

    1. No apology necessary Retired and Relieved. I should have been clearer in how I posted. If Fr Watkin's letter is too long to be included in another comment I can add it as a postscript if a subscriber is willing to send it to me.

    2. Was not Fr Watkin at one time legal advisor to the RB until he criticised the proceedings of the Provincial Court held 1997, in a published paper,'Church in Wales and the rule of law'?
      Fear not of using my name AB.They are not children of light but of darkness. The Dark One and his private investigators are welcome to come and get me. "For me to love it is no chore. My problem is the man next door".
      Clifford Williams
      (Made in Wales )

  5. Danny Jones is probably right, which is depressing. Of course, the choosing will have been done by Barry Morgan in a secret deal at the 19th hole. The question is, will the other Bench Sitters now wake up and smell the coffee? Whatever your ecclesiastical alliances, you cannot deny the fact that the C in W is jaded and exhausted after the Morgan years. A new broom is essential. The best suggestion I have yet heard is to allow Llandaff to remain vacant for a longer period. The Ass Bishop can go around doing his circus act for the time being and, as Confirmation is now in abeyance, the duties will not be onerous. The brow-beaten people of Llandaff need breathing space. Here's another suggestion: would it not be pastorally wise to make Barry the Golfer an honorary assistant bishop in Monmouth or Swansea, rather than Llandaff? Already, I can hear the sinister snarls from Ely Tower "...over my dead body"!

  6. The case of London is interesting because it illustrates an instance of Anglican generosity and inclusiveness, something Barry Morgan procrastinates about endlessly but cannot seem to match his words with actions. Richard Chartres recognises the intrinsic value of those who differ from him. True, he would probably rather not be seen dead at Holy Trinity Brompton, but he knows it speaks to a huge constituency who, were it not there, would be drawn to some warehouse or gym under the Hammersmith Flyover being run by an independent evangelical enterprise. Similarly, if he went on a witch-hunt to winkle-out all those parishes using the Roman Missal in the diocese, he would drive away thousands of worshippers to Rome or the ordinariate. Above and beyond that, he recognises that these places are thriving and, by putting aside his personal preferences, he has been generous in allowing them to flourish. Why a bunch of self-confessed 'liberals' have been unable to do this in Wales beats me. Prefects not prophets indeed. Barry the golfer, Peggy the Pilot, Jenny the Bullsh***er, and the rest of them... they have never believed a word they have said. But neither have we.

  7. I once wrote a letter to Richard Chartres and had a letter in reply, signed by him, not just rubber stamped. I have written and e mailed Welsh bishops on several occasions. I have only once had an acknowledgement but never an answer. It seems they can't even manage common courtesy.

    1. I have also written to all six diocesan bishops when views were sought about the Code of Practice. Four bishops didn’t have the courtesy to reply. One acknowledged receipt and said that he would reply in detail later – he never did. And one replied in the most patronising and condescending manner that made it absolutely clear that a mere layman had no business in questioning His Lordship. It was an extraordinary rant. I have framed it and hung in my lavatory. As one of my house guests once said, ‘You can now enjoy two s**ts at the same time!’

    2. Another meaningful pastoral reply from His Darkness the Grand Mufty of Wales
      , 1549?

    3. No, he was on of the four not to reply!

    4. You got away lightly 1549. If he had replied to you you would have received only politically correct drivel.

    5. Dear 1549, As we are reminded in our daily offices and readings of the Constitution where His Darkness has taught us to say and think, as he himself does, "As I see it", "Let me set the record straight" or "I am" your Archbishop, and, of course, his favorite thought provoker handed down to us by him, "What would Jesus say today".

      Now, 1549, "As I see it" you wrote to all six Welsh bishops. Four failed to reply, but acknowledged receipt and promised to reply in detail later - but didn't. But one replied in the form of a condescending rant, an 'extraordinary rant'.

      Noooooww, "In order to set the record straight" are you saying that the nasty piece of work bishop, who sent the rant, is also one of the four who didn't reply?

      Well I'll be buggered. Ever thought of a career at 39 Cathedral Road?

    6. Drivel alert!

      Listening to Radio 4 this morning and to my disgust and horror I heard Paul Nunes announcing His --Irrelevance will be guest speaker next Sunday morning.

      I have already booked my hairdresser.

  8. Whitchurch Residents Against Bullying22 January 2017 at 14:32

    I'm afraid it's all too true. From St John the Baptist, Cardiff (where, presumably, there are no issues over paying musicians the professional going rate). The services will be "presented" by the off-beam Dr Rowland Jones and his Darkness is being billed as "the longest serving Primate in the Anglican Communion." Well, blow me down. And there was me thinking he was only a lowly baboon!

    1. Not only is the St Johns service being broadcast next Sunday, but lucky old ++Barry is getting an exclusive ticket-only farewell event at Llandaff that very afternoon.

      For those of us who won't be attending, here's a sneak preview of the outgoing Archbishop's "acceptance speech":

  9. Longing for Change22 January 2017 at 14:58

    Now look, ladies and gentlemen, this was supposed to be a serious post and we have descended into the usual quips about episcopal presences in somebody's lavatory. To be honest, I don't want to know about that; but I do want to know that the Church in Wales has a future after 12 years of inertia and procrastinating about things that are (in the words of my daughter) 'just so yesterday.' OK, we now have poor old +Jo Tyddewi, looking so shambolic in a mitre that most people will think the latest bishop is a cross-dresser from Broadmoor who is starting up a successor to the Monster Raving Loony Party. Barry Morgan's hopes and aspirations have been fulfilled, even if the rest of us are now going to spend the next ten years with a shovel dealing with the consequences.

    But what are WE going to do? Is there no constructive or positive vision out there? How do we live together with difference and respect each other, so we are free to get on with the vital task of reconnecting with the people of Wales (assuming they were ever connected to us in the first place!). We cannot go back to some kind of Catholic nirvana; but we can make sure that those who have been bullied, ridiculed and kicked into the long grass are given an equal place at the table once more. Peggy the Pilate won't be around for much longer, and Jenny the Wiggler will bugger off to that great Methodist scrapheap among the middle class materialists. Rowland-Jones will be sectioned and the rest of Barry's babes will find another hobby. Who then will lead us? Who will provide sacramental integrity and theological substance. Don't leave it to the Bench Sitters for God's sake.

  10. The plan which slipped out from the episcopal vestry on Saturday at Llandaff is for an ‘all things for all people solution’. A woman to get Llandaff, to show it is progressive and liberal, and let the Assistant Bishop look after the dwindling number of traditionalists in the diocese. There are not many in that latter category now, and so his extra work load will not be that onerous. By the time he retires such parishes will have died out.

  11. There's just one problem with that proposal, Florence. The Ass Bishop has laid hands on female ordinands for the presbyterate and episcopate. That compromises his sacramental integrity. Those parishes seeking a bishop who provides sacramental continuity with the historic Church will not accept his ministry. At least the C of E is honest and generous in admitting that the ordination of women has resulted in a measure of 'broken communion' and, in order to keep a fractured Church together, has recognised the need for bishops who have not ordained women to these orders (cf The Society of Saints Hilda & Wilfred). And by the way, I can't see thriving parishes like St Martin's, Roath dying out by the time the Ass retires. All I would say is, come on Llandaff electors, are you going to lay down and let Barry the Golfer walk all over you even after he has - finally - left office?

  12. @Florence
    Bully boy --Bazza has tried the "woman in Llandaff" strategy before but she lasted a mere 9 weeks.
    --Bazza's revenge has been to land us with the "pantomime dame in Llandaff" act.

  13. Retired and Relieved24 January 2017 at 17:31

    As this post has now moved to 'page 2' and more topical matters will inevitably push it further back, I wonder if I might be allowed a final 'thought out loud'?

    From my privileged position of retirement, it is blatantly obvious that the Church in Wales has a crisis of credible leadership. All recent episcopal appointments (and yes, they ARE appointments) have produced characterless individuals who, in any other circumstances, would not have been made bishops. Doubtless, they are good and decent people; but all they are doing is keeping the show on the road. Not one of them has the spiritual charisma, let alone the theological imagination, to inspire people who long for something more than the materialistic secularism which is now the most popular religion in Wales. Bangor has come off worst from this shenanigans, St David's is about to discover that decline is the inevitable way forward. I feel for the two bishops concerned, quite honestly, and the impact this must be having on their health, their families and their self-esteem.

    I hate to be a peddler of doom, but like many who commented on this post, I am not confident that the era of arrogance and ducking accountability is over. I certainly have no reason to believe that the bishops can see what is obvious to the population at large: that further decline is inevitable whilst the clergy and parishioners of the Church in Wales are sunk in a malaise of the bishops'(and the Archbishop's)own devising.

    Now is not too late to grasp the opportunities that lay before us. Earnest prayer and a refusal to allow the Church to be brow-beaten into submission can take many forms. May be God has put the solution in OUR hands?

    When I came across the paper which is the subject of this post, I thought long and hard about where it might be shared in a constructive spirit of mutual concern and commitment to the future flourishing of the Church. Such is the degree of uneasiness at challenging the status quo at present, and the lack of any other serious forum, that I was drawn to Ancient Briton. That is not to suggest you are a last resort. I hope it amplifies the perception that you are the only forum attempting to hold our bishops to account.

    1. "Now is not too late to grasp the opportunities that lay before us".

      Given that there can be no separate structure in the Church in Wales, the Jackson/Wigley Amendment saw to that, the only hope, despite what he said later - see subsequent entry, was held out by the bishop of St Asaph at the Credo Cymru Conference in August 2016.

      Bishop Gregory said " I can see, however, that there is a question as to where, in a Church in which provision is made only for individuals, traditional Catholics can find their corporate life. As traditionalist you need a corporate fellowship. The answer I would give is that traditionalists can form a society. All Christians are free to form a society of the faithful to promote their vision of the Gospel. The Church in Wales will not create structural provision, but there is no power to prevent you organising corporately".

      There has been little evidence of backbone in Credo Cymru in the years of decline which see the Church in Wales where she is today. Barry and the bench sitters have been happily working away to eradicate any semblance of the Catholic faith in Wales. The latest I hear is that in a final act of spite, one of Barry's placements is being sent to convert that great Anglo Catholic shrine of St German's in Roath, Cardiff.

      Making his own rules bishop Gregory said, "Such a society would, in my opinion, not be on the same lines as the English Society of SS Wilfrid and Hilda, which has a different goal and orientation. Rather, I would like to explore the possibility of a ‘double belonging’: to the society and to the diocese. This is comparable to what I experience in my own family life, my wife being a Roman Catholic.

      To date the Church in Wales has ignored the faith and simply done their own thing to feather their own nests. Get on with it Credo Cymru. Do your own thing and form a Society before all is lost.

    2. No "conversion" will occur at St. German's, just another decline into oblivion.

      Merely the latest cut in the death of a 1000 cuts being inflicted upon the Church in Wales by Darth --Insidious and his coven.