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Towards a United Church in Wales

SOURCE: ARTICLE: Brian Matthews - “The Treasury”
DATE: May 2013

There has been publicity of late regarding the report of the Commission of Covenanted Churches. As a Presbyterian Church of Wales representative on the Commission I would like to put these proposals in a positive light to enable a fair and proper debate. I would first of all urge everyone who is able to, to download the documents from the Cytun website, www.cytun.org.uk, in order to understand why these proposals are being made.

The Commission is made up of representatives of the five denominations who signed the Covenant for Unity in 1975 and our Church has consistently agreed to support the Commission financially ever since. The Commission is not asking for a definite yes or no, but is requesting feedback from the churches as to whether or not these proposals are a good foundation on which to build. As a Church, we are asked to do this by July 2014.

There are churches in India and Australia who have wrestled with the same problems and have succeeded in having a United Church. Each has had to grapple with the problem of different ideas of what the Church means, of church governance and pastoral care as well as different ideas of ministry. In Wales, we have the Church in Wales which is an Episcopal Church who believe in the Apostolic succession for ministry and regard the laying on of hands at ordination as a necessary ingredient of the process of ordination. The other churches involved do not believe this and have quite different patterns of church administration that are not always easy to marry. It is a difficult task and if we are to achieve a uniting church there has to be an understanding of each other and a sense of humility.

The purpose of unity and of the Covenant is not to have a different structure for the sake of it, but to have that visible unity which will be ripe for mission in a land which has known divisions between ‘church’ and ‘chapel’. Mission is paramount in all of this. The ‘unchurched’ people are not interested in our divisions and denominations and we need to allow people to hear about Jesus from the people of God who are united in this.
Ordination is, and always has been, a difficult issue. We are proud as ministers of our ordination and do not feel the need for the laying on of hands by people who have in their turn received this in an unbroken chain from the earliest church. The Episcopal Church sees it as an absolute necessity. However, we believe in the apostolic faith but believe that it is handed down through the Holy Spirit without the need of the outward sign. I ask this question. Could we be humble enough, in the interests of the greater good of Christian unity to accept this outward sign? It needs to be thought out in two contexts, that of people not yet ordained to ministry and those already ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Is it possible for the latter to have this without re-ordination, but simply recognition? Please remember that we are asked for our thoughts and responses and this could be our great question. We would succeed here in a way that other united churches have not. Little Wales could be world leaders!

The question of a Bishop is another thorny point of contention. Possibly a lot of the opposition to this arises from our concept of a Bishop, gained perhaps from Anthony Trollope and Barchester rather than any actual contact with these men, yes sadly only men at the moment, and change here in the Church in Wales is essential for us I would have thought. Their role is probably much different from what we perceive it to be, their power a lot less than we imagine. Again, in the interest of fair debate and to be able to consider this openly, perhaps we need to discover what exactly is the role of the Bishop in the modern Church in Wales.

However, the role of a Bishop within our denomination would be for us to work out according to our structures. This, I honestly believe to be the least problematic of the issues. He or she would be equal to the existing Bishops and the other new Bishops from the Methodist and URC/Baptist Churches.

It is very important to recognise what the Church in Wales is conceding here, as many people have already said that we have to become Anglican. Traditionally, a Bishop has been the pastor of all who live in his diocese, but under these proposals he (or she!) will only be pastor of the Anglican people in the area, our Bishop and our Church will still retain the pastoral care for us as happens now. It has been said that we have to give up so much and the Episcopal Church very little but this is a huge concession from them.
As I grew up I had little or no regard for the Church in Wales, possibly due to its weakness in the valleys and to my upbringing. Over the years I have seen a great change, whether it is change on their part or my maturity, I am not sure. I remember attending the Parish Church on a Christmas Day and not being allowed to take the Eucharist. So much has changed. We are welcome at the altar, the Ecumenical Canons have allowed other ministers to take the Eucharist or Communion. In joint services there is now no requirement for the Anglican Priest to be present. I have taken an Anglican Eucharist in the Parish Church in Hawarden and the Bishop of Bangor was the first to receive from me. Women are ordained to the priesthood and the worship is much more free than we imagine, My local Priest has been accused of making her services too Presbyterian! Impossible, we may say.

There is more to the proposals, obviously, and much more to discuss and I am not naïve as to the complexities of the issues. I have attempted in a very simple way, to open it up so that we may have the open and fair debate that I feel is necessary at this time in our history. Here in Wales, we have an opportunity to achieve what has not been achieved elsewhere in the world. For the sake of the Gospel being heard in future generations can we pass this opportunity by?

 

 
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