The Church in Wales Review

by Philip Jones

Published in July 2012.  The full text is available on the internet website of the Church in Wales.  It contains some thought-provoking  recommendations concerning ecclesiastical ministry and governance.

Ministry

The Review observes that the traditional parochial structure (one incumbent of one parish) has been eroded in recent decades by the formation of team and group ministries, and by the amalgamation of parishes (p.6).  It goes a step further than these recent changes, and proposes the abolition of the old parochial structure altogether, or at least ‘moving away from the idea of the parish as the basic unit of ministry’.

The old structure, which is territorial in character, should be replaced by a more congregation-based structure.  The Church will be organized on the basis of congregations rather than parishes (p.7).  Congregations will still exist within a ‘natural geographical unit’, but this will be much larger than a traditional parish.  This new super-parish will be called a ministry area (p.8).  Deaneries, like traditional parishes, will be abolished.

A super-parish or ministry area might contain circa 25 congregations (p.7).  Each congregation will have a leader, who is likely to be either a lay minister or a non-stipendiary minister (p.13).  Perhaps three ministers in the area will be full time (p.7).  The congregation leaders will form a team with responsibility for the whole ministry area, under a team leader.

The change from traditional parish to ministry area would, however, be without prejudice to the legal rights of ‘parishioners’ to be married and buried in their local church and churchyard (p.8).

The abolition of the traditional parochial structure would significantly affect the ancient duty of residence.  Clergy would be obliged only to live within ‘easy access’ of their ministry area (p.23), not actually in it.  Moreover, clergy would cease to be provided with official residences, though their stipends would be increased to take account of this loss.

A single integrated training programme would be provided for all ministers, ordained and lay (p.13).  The programme would cover both pre-ordination and post-ordination training (p.15).  The regime created by the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009 does not seem to have achieved a completely integrated training programme for Church of England ministers.

The ministry team and its team leader (who might be the former area dean) would be subject to the oversight of the archdeacon, and thence the bishop.  An archdeacon would be responsible for the oversight of 10 to 12 teams (p.8).

The Review does not propose the abolition of dioceses as well as parishes, but recommends that they share or ‘pool’ their administration in three centres, one in North Wales and two in South Wales (p.17).  (In the Church of England, regular interdiocesan administration was first permitted by the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007, s.19.)  The six dioceses of the Church in Wales might eventually be reduced to three, but with no reduction in the number of bishops (p.18).

Governance

The Review makes two criticisms of the diocesan and provincial structure of the Church in Wales:

(1) it is cumbersome and top-heavy and

(2) it does not provide adequate channels of information and communication.

It therefore argues for

(1) better systems of communication within the Church and

(2) fewer, and smaller, decision-taking authorities.

This suggests that participants in Welsh ecclesiastical governance will be better informed, but also fewer in number.

The Constitution of the Church in Wales is criticised generally as ‘large, complex and unwieldy … an inhibitor of necessary change’ (p.33) but this rather begs the questions

(1) what is necessary change? and

(2) who decides what is or is not necessary?

There are two specific criticisms relating to information and communication

(1) the deliberative processes in the Church: ‘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’ (p.4)

(2) the election of diocesan bishops (and the Archbishop): ‘the present system … is … unable to offer the electors adequate information about potential candidates’ (p.32).

The Review recommends that diocesan conferences should be renamed diocesan synods, in order to improve the deliberative process, and that candidates for election to the Governing Body should be required to produce a ‘short manifesto’, so that electors can be better informed’ (p.5).

However, even with the benefit of election manifestos, the Governing Body and the Representative Body are deemed unsuitable for ‘comprehensive leadership’ (p.34).  Instead the Review proposes the smaller Standing Committee as the principal engine of the Church’s governance.  The size of the Electoral College (which elects the diocesan bishops and the Archbishop) should also be significantly reduced (p.32).

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