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The Church In Wales: Leading the Way with the Laity


The Bishop of St Asaph, Bishop Gregory Cameron, speaking at ‘The Future(s) of Anglicanism’, offered us the view from Wales.

The following two anecdotes have nothing to do with Wales, but Bishop Gregory is a gifted raconteur and was no doubt hoping to lighten the mood after a serious session on the Anglican Covenant. He began with a personal reflection on the hazards of communicating with children. Dressed in full episcopal kit and surrounded by a group of little dears (my expression, not the good bishop’s), he swung into his routine, playing to the crowd. His jokes went down well and he sensed a real rapport with this next generation of church-goers. Afterwards, the children were asked what they had enjoyed most about the afternoon: ‘the funny man in the party hat’ came the answer…

His second joke is not really a joke at all. A good man died and was met by St Peter at the Pearly Gates. St Peter offered to take him on a tour of Heaven the following Friday (the day reserved for tours). At the first place they came to, a barbecue was in full swing, with steaks, sausages, chops and kebabs. Everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. ‘This is Catholic Heaven’, explained St Peter. ‘On earth, on Fridays they were only allowed to eat fish’. They walked on and came next to a bar, with a group carousing and enjoying pints of real ale or glasses of vintage claret, according to taste. ‘This is Methodist Heaven’, said St Peter. ‘On earth, they denied themselves all forms of alcohol’. Next they passed  a group of people singing, laughing and shouting out of sheer joie de vivre. St Peter explained: ‘This is Quaker Heaven. On earth they learnt to sit quietly, waiting for the Holy Spirit – now the Holy Spirit encourages them to let rip.’ Finally, they came to a group of people looking inconsolably morose and bored. Our puzzled visitor looked at St Peter questioningly. ‘This is Anglican Heaven’, said St Peter. ‘On earth, there wasn’t anything they weren’t allowed to do…’


But to return to our Welsh sheep…

The Christian presence in Wales was already well-established by the time St. Augustine came to England in 597 and, when Augustine attempted to assert his authority as Archbishop of all Britain in 603, he was told by the Welsh bishops that he had no such authority over them. There are six dioceses in the Church In Wales, which was disestablished in 1920. At disestablishment, all patronage was abolished. Bishops are elected by an electoral college. Twice the number of lay representatives to those of clergy are elected to the Provincial synod (The Governing Body), and lay members are constitutionally a majority in all the councils of the Church in Wales, from Parochial Church Councils to The Governing Body. There were 350 members of The Governing Body, which meets twice a year, but this has now been reduced to 150 (still in stark contrast to the Welsh National Assembly, which has only 60 people to run Wales) with a church membership of 60,000 – 80,000. A commission is currently looking at the structures of the Church In Wales, and there is a move (as in England) to devolve more decision-making to deanery level.


The Laity

At present the proportion of stipendiary clergy to church buildings is about one priest for every two churches. If to this are added self-supporting and retired clergy, there is no pressing need purely on grounds of expediency to train the laity to lead worship. However, the Church In Wales does make a concerted effort to include the laity in leading worship, whether as Licensed Readers or Ordained Local Ministers, regarding this as a desirable end in itself. Bishop Gregory endorses this process, which he hopes will accelerate in future.




The illustration is the coat of arms of the Church in Wales made available under CCL by  Dyfsunctional at en.wikipedia. The photograph of Bishop Gregory is from his consecration and is taken from wikipedia. The illustration of a Welsh church is from Shutterstock.


12 comments on this post:

ramtopsrac said...

I spent 3-ish very formative years as a student at the Uni of Wales, Aberystwyth and at St Michael’s the parish church – an evangelical hub in Wales that has bred more ministers than I care to think about!

Most of those now among my minister friends from this era, are priests, clergy. One curate of the era is now the Bishop of Bangor! But, what strike’s me very firmly is the number of people who had active, often paid ministries, in St Mike’s (as it was known) who were not necessarily (as far as I’m aware) “authorised”. If the vicar (Revd Stuart Bell, still the best preacher I know) and team felt you were good enough for the job, you got it. In my era (87-91), the student pastors were simply trained on the job (my now husband was one), preachers were as frequently lay as ordained, and not necessarily Readers – though almost all were used to public speaking and brilliant.

People were made to think about their faith and enabled to grow in experience through homegroups etc. We were challenged by a whole cross section of visiting folk too: Adrian Plass, Michael Green, J John, John Stott, Martyn Joseph, I could go on.

Now among the ministers myself, though not ordained, I continue to thank God for this fertile growing ground in which I was planted by God!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this first-hand experience. It describes much better than I have done why I came away with such a firm impression that the Church In Wales is simply interested in whether you seem to be sincerely Christian and have some aptitude in this area. Sometimes one feels in the Church of England that we are more interested in setting up hoops for people to jump through!

20 September 2011 10:56
20 September 2011 10:42
UKViewer said...

Great post. The Church in Wales leading the way.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Ernie.
Do I deduce Wales might be the land of your fathers?!

UKViewer said...

I don’t have a family connection with Wales, but spent a considerable amount of time during my Army Career in Wales. I actually think I have walked or driven over most of it. We actually had our honeymoon in Wales (very Romantic.

Love the country and the people.

20 September 2011 20:45
20 September 2011 16:46
20 September 2011 16:16
Stenya said...

This is an interesting and encouraging insight into a subtly different kind of British Anglicanism that we in the CofE can sometimes forget is there on our doorstep.

Sorry to be thick, though: I don’t quite get +Gregory’s St Peter joke. Is it because I’m English?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for this. I had the feeling that Wales was almost mid-Atlantic, having absorbed some of the attributes of The Episcopal Church. (But I stand to be corrected on this – ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing’!)

So far as the joke about Anglican Heaven goes, I am not sure it bears very deep analysis. I suppose it is based on the idea that other denominations have traditionally placed considerable emphasis on the ‘Thou Shalt Not’ aspects of Christianity (easy to imagine that after a lifetime of being forbidden chocolate, say, heaven might be a constant supply with no guilt attached). Anglicanism, on the other hand, concentrates on the things we ought to be doing. So it doesn’t produce a pent-up desire for forbidden fruits? But I don’t think there’s a sermon in it: I’m pretty sure the keenest choco-phile would get sick of the stuff in eternity!

UKViewer said...

“I’m pretty sure the keenest choco-phile would get sick of the stuff in eternity”!

I wouldn’t bank on it! 🙂

21 September 2011 11:19
21 September 2011 08:32
20 September 2011 20:37

From a US perspective I found this both fun and very thought provoking.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Brother James-Aidan.
And I have enjoyed looking at your ‘View From the Mystic Mountains’ – can we have more please?
Meanwhile, welcome to Lay Anglicana. Please do not take the title too literally – we are very open to comments by those who are neither lay nor Anglican.

21 September 2011 13:40
21 September 2011 11:54
Canon Francis C. Zanger said...

I am a well-retired priest. After having to retire first from the Naval Chaplaincy, then from full-time hospital chaplaincy, and finally from half-time hospice work, all due to deteriorating spine problems, I then spent a year as very-part-time Assistant to the Rector and Pastoral Counselor at a very high Anglo-Catholic parish, from which I retired again, offering up my office to a third stipendiary priest. Then, by the grace (and sense of humor) of God, my wife and I came to Portugal, where I have served as a priest and member of the Igreja Lusitana (Comunhão Anglicana) for the past four years, celebrating the Eucharist and preaching at four parishes in the Porto area on rotation, due to their having a severe clery shortage and my having a medical pension to live on. My health is such that I now must retire again, for the third or fourth time.
As an American, I was shocked to discover that Portugal has no stipendiary clergy at all, although a few get some help with mileage. Even our bishop of many years spent over half those years as the full-time V.P. for Human Relations at a Portuguese bank, while serving a diocese that covers the nation.
Parishes are largely run by their elected lay boards, while the priest is responsible for the Eucharist, preaching and teaching (and selecting the hymns– an unending problem for me, since each of the four parishes I rotate through knows different hymns from their Victorian-era hymnal, and I know none of them!).
It is, in a curious and unconscious way, a version of South American Liberation Theology, where the priest has his position in the community and the church as celebrant, preacher and pastoral care provider, but all the business aspects that really shouldn’t be the clergy’s lot anyway are done by people qualified to do them (I never saw a balance sheet in seminary, nor learned to fix a boiler, but as a stipendiary priest I was expected to be in charge of all such things).
The result is that the laity are empowered and feel a personal responsibility for the well-being of their parish, and the priest is able to do those things for which he is particularly trained. It certainly minimizes the “priest-as-God” syndrome that can damage parishes when the priest doesn’t prove omniiscient and omnipotent (most clergy are trained to be clergy, and not accountants or building managers, and when there are perfectly good accountants and building managers in the parish, why not empower them in those ministries, with the advantage of getting them done far more competently, and letting the priest do what he’s trained to do?).
I went into the chaplaincy after some five years in the parish to get to do what I was called to do– as I used to joke, as a Navy Chaplain, my budget was provided by the taxpayers, and not by my begging once a year! I shan’t say that there is no place for stipendiary clergy– there is– but the radical idea that the lay members of the congregation are not merely competent, but may well be much more competent than the cleric in their fields, is something that enables the whole Body of Christ, rather than holding up just a single member.
If the eye should say to the foot, “I have no need of you,” then how will the eye move? St. Paul had it right– our human love for hierarchical bureaucracies have hurt us over and over again.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much indeed for this fascinating and important comment, Canon Zanger.

I would like it to be more generally read than by those who reach this post on The Church In Wales. May I therefore have your permission to put it out as a guest post on the blog?

Welcome to Lay Anglicana! I do feel for you with your spinal problems. It was partly for the same reason that I ceased to be a lay worship leader and instead try to ‘minister’ from my computer.

28 September 2011 06:31
28 September 2011 00:24

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