How bold are the churches of Wales? Are they bold enough to work more closely together? Are they bold enough to go forward with a radical plan that could lead to a united church in Wales? Those were the challenging questions put to a major conference of the five covenanting churches in Wales.
Far-reaching recommendations for a Church Uniting in Wales, with nine bishops and an inter-change of ordained ministers, were launched at The Gathering, in Aberystwyth, when representatives of the five churches came together in the largest ecumenical meeting held in Wales in recent times.
Bold and imaginative thinking was highlighted in the brief given to the Commission of Covenanting Churches in Wales, the Rev Gethin Abraham-Williams, chair, told the meeting. How the Commission had responded to the challenge could be seen in its reports. But, he asked, were the churches, in turn, going to be bold enough to take it forward?
The Commission recommended a Church Uniting in Wales with nine bishops, the six existing Anglican dioceses plus three additional bishops drawn from each of the Methodists, the Presbyterians and the combined United Reformed Church and Covenanting Baptists. Member churches would, for the present, continue to operate their existing ecclesiastical structures.
The reports would be discussed in the churches, said Mr Abraham-Williams. Discussions would be helped by a DVD, distributed with the reports, that would be ‘an important element’ in helping people to understand the detail involved. Recommendations included making The Gathering an annual event and drawing up a constitution for the Uniting Church within a period of five years.
Mr Abraham-Williams said The Gathering celebrated 40 years and more of covenanting for mission in Wales. Before the Covenant was signed in 1975, there had been more than seven years of diligent inter-denominational study and prayer. The historic studies that resulted were now housed in the National Library of Wales.
So, like the Children of Israel wandering through the desert, the five covenanting traditions had also been on a 40 year journey. Sometimes it had felt as if they were wandering through a wilderness of indifference, sometimes it had felt as if they were more keen to turn back than to keep going on. But the churches had kept faith with the covenant and with each other.
The Gathering saw the launch of a new, updated Service of Holy Communion, designed for inter-denominational occasions and use in Local Ecumenical Partnerships. It was used for the closing communion service, when it was celebrated by leaders of the different denominations.
The five covenanting churches in Wales are the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Church in Wales and some Covenanted Baptist congregations.
Jean Silvan Evans