SOURCE: BLOG - The Prespyterian Church of Wales Website
Saturday 13 October has been described as an historic day in Wales and attracted much publicity. It was the culmination of years of hard and devoted work by members of the Commission of the Covenanted Churches, who are seeking to bring into being The Church Uniting in Wales. The Great Hall, Aberystwyth, buzzed with excitement at the launch of the Commission’s recommendations. Longstanding friends greeted each other and the Commission shared its latest thinking through a very effective short play and DVD. The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches brought global greetings and encouragement. There were many hundreds of people present – mostly ministers and members of these bodies and beyond but also bishops, presidents and moderators from all five committed churches. The high point was the launch of a new order of service of Holy Communion, presided over by the leaders of the five churches who stood alongside each other in a significant manifestation of unity.
For the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the discussion of the Commission’s recommendations will begin at Presbytery level as each Presbytery was expected to send four representatives to the Gathering. Presbyteries will send their responses to the recommendations to the Association and the 2013 General Assembly will make a final response. It is too soon for me to respond to the recommendations but the challenge is clear – namely, to place the focus on Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour and his will ‘that they all be one’ in order that Wales today may rediscover Him and his Good News of Life, Light and Hope to our generation. Unity is for mission, for witness – a sacrificial and costly following in His footsteps of unconditional love and service. Given that there are no substantial doctrinal divisions between the five committed churches; that each contains a diversity of perspectives on the Gospel; that their structures are ineffective and faltering, our commitment to Christ through our Covenant demands of us an open, honest and creative response. The Covenant and its developments since 1975 have arguably been undertaken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, despite our tepid responses. But now, through God’s great mercy, He is affording us a new opportunity to move forward together. Honest, positive, creative and unprejudiced discussion are marks of integrity as disciples of Jesus Christ, committed in His service.
There is something new and creative in the title given to the proposed new Church – the Church Uniting in Wales – which brings its own excitement, energy and vision. However, this will be an ‘emerging church’, for it seeks to honour the diversity of different traditions as they move forward together into a new future of planning and sharing resources to the Glory of God in Christ. This is not possible without a commitment to unity, yet the emphasis is on unity in diversity. Presbyteries, Association and General Assembly will remain, but there will be an overarching body enabling discussion, planning and decisions and movement. The discussion must be about our willingness to belong to and participate in the Church of the future, whose basis is being established by our very participation in this discussion.
Of course, there is no prize for guessing the negatives. Issues around episcopacy may well be voiced, with the usual clamour about superstition, authority and power at the cost of a meaningful discussion about where authority and power reside within our present disintegrating structures. What are the consequences in terms of estrangement (if not alienation) within the Connexion of the loss of that vital sense of belonging? Basically, the term ‘episcopacy’ is about pastoral care of clergy, staff and churches as recently witnessed in Machynlleth – care which many people see lacking in our contemporary Presbyterianism. How about asking what might a Presbyterian Bishop look like and what would be the benefits to our Church today?
Another perspective on the discussion will be: how do we envision our future as a church? Who are the potential clerks of Presbyteries, members of Boards and committees, Moderators? ‘We are all tired, you know’ was one comment made privately at a recent meeting of the Association. But above all is the issue of our effective witness to Jesus Christ locally and nationally, given the challenges of atheism, secularism and other faiths. These challenges require concerted effort, vision, planning and enthusiasm. These seem lacking in the contemporary Welsh Church, so marked by decline in numbers, witness and service. No one church can tackle these immense issues on its own. Renewal is of God Himself but maybe He in His graciousness, generosity and faithfulness is offering us one other – final? – opportunity in following His will.
Dafydd Andrew Jones, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales.