Last week I attended the ordinary meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales. This is basically the Welsh equivalent of the General Synod of the Church of England. I am a co-opted member of Governing Body (meaning that I’m not voted on) and represent my diocese (Monmouth) as well as being a voice for the younger members of the Church in Wales.
A lot was covered in this Governing Body, and a lot of lively debate was had. Some of the items on the agenda had to be put back to the next meeting of the Governing Body. Below I explain some of the highlights of the meeting for me, and how I voted on various motions, and why.
Youth and Children’s Matters
There were some excellent presentations from Bangor and St Asaph Dioceses on the work they’re doing with children, youth and families. The St Asaph Youth Forum was particularly great; they decided to only share a short presentation, but the majority of their time was given to questions – definitely a good idea. It was inspiring and eye opening for the Governing Body as a whole as the youth shared their vision for the Church in Wales.
Report on Gender Equality in the Church in Wales
This debate took at least six and a half hours after the report was received, and spanned both days of the meeting of the Governing Body. The gist of the report was that the Church in Wales isn’t where it should be with regards to women in ministry, and that more needs to be done to encourage women to flourish in the Church.
There were many recommendations put forward as to how to implement this, some of which I agreed with, and others I strongly didn’t agree with. One which I disagreed with most was the recommendation and inference of positive discrimination in favour of women to work towards 50-50% gender representation in the Church from the top down.
I spoke first in response to this report. One of the comments I made was this,
Whilst I support the motion in principle, I have a reservation. We must be careful of thinking that a 50-50% gender balance equals equality in the Church. It’s more about an attitude rather than numbers in the Church that matters most. It’s vital that we are indeed appointing the right person for the right job, whether that’s a man or a woman.
I also suggested that this may be a generational issue.
Many people spoke after me, and many very well (much better than me)! There were two amendments proposed to the motion. The original motion was:
That the Governing Body:
(i) receive and welcome the Report of the Working Group on Representation of Women in the Church in Wales dated April 2015 and endorse the recommendations.
(ii) accept that the Church in Wales has not achieved in the last seven years the expected cultural change, the appointment of more women into senior posts and the greater involvement of women in Church decision making;
(iii)recognise that the equality agenda is the responsibility of the whole Church;
(iv)commend the Report to the Province, dioceses, deaneries and parishes for study and appropriate action;
(v) request the Standing Committee to allocate the recommendations in the Report to the appropriate bodies for action;
(vi)request the Standing Committee to report back on progress in implementing the recommendations within 3 years.
The first amendment was quite difficult and made a lot of changes to the original motion. I voted against the first amendment because it would have stopped any progression being made with the report. The amendment was rejected by the Governing Body
The second amendment was to simply omit the words “and endorse the recommendations” in point one of the original motion. I voted in favour of this amendment and this amendment was passed by the Governing Body and then the motion itself was passed.
Resource: Question Time Questions
I asked the Bench of Bishops whether they would consider changing policy at a provincial level to allow the use of non-alcoholic communion wine in exceptional pastoral circumstances.
Will the Bench of Bishops,recognising that current Church policy is to instruct all clergy to use fermented communion wine at the Eucharist, consider in individual and exceptional circumstances, for pastoral reasons, permitting a cleric with the approval of the bishop, to offer a separate chalice of non alcoholic communion wine?
The answer was given by the Bishop of St Asaph
The question opens out unexpected theological intricacies. The Anglican Lambeth Quadrilateral said that “the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself—Baptism and the Supper of the Lord—are ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by him.” This means the use of wine—the fermented juice of the grape—is essential to proper celebration of the sacraments. The reception of bread alone should be pastorally sufficient when well explained to anyone who has difficult receiving alcoholic wine. De- alcoholicised wine is available for use in the Eucharist; and a discrete second chalice could be used.
Whilst the answer wasn’t all that bad, I was still disappointed. The reason for this is because I don’t see any theological, practical or pastoral reason as to why we shouldn’t make this provision for those who have an issue with alcohol. I sincerely believe that the Church needs to make a prophetic statement about this, due to the very high likelihood that many in my generation will be suffering from alcohol related issues in the not too distant future. I gave many reasons as to why I wanted to see this change, and was cut short by the Archbishop of Wales who said that my “brief comment has turned into an essay”. Oops! But whilst it may have been a little longer than “brief” (whatever that means), I felt it was important to highlight this issue as one that is overlooked over and over again, whilst gluten free wafers are used without question. On reflection, I think this may have something to do with clericalism; it is ordinarily the Priest who gives the bread out at communion, therefore, there may not be so much opposition to gluten free wafers (even though Christ didn’t have these of course) as there would be to non-alcoholic communion wine.
There was a brilliant discussion on Evangelism. For this, we were all separated into groups to discuss what Evangelism is, where we’ve gone wrong as a Church in Evangelism, and what we can do to encourage evangelism in our parishes. There was a lot of confusion, I felt, between “mission” and “evangelism”. Some didn’t seem so keen on speaking the Gospel in words… I don’t blame them, but it’s what Christ himself told us to do, so we must do it. Someone else raised the issue that the Church, whilst in theory, believes that salvation comes by hearing the word of God and accepting Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection for our new life in Him, it often preaches a gospel of universalism, whereby the Church dispenses with its responsibility to preach the true Gospel. I thought this was a very interesting point. And on reflection, I have seen this happen in various church settings around the Church in Wales. It is, in one sense, very easy for us to give food to the poor and not say any more about anything. It’s in some ways a lot harder to give food to the poor and then advance, within established relationships, to say that our personal motive comes from a God who’s been good to us in sending his Son and that we’re simply passing his love on to others.
This motion was to change the fee system in Wales. Currently, clergy get to keep the fees associated with occasional offices (Weddings and Funerals) on top of their Stipend. The motion would add an allowance into the stipend and clergy would no longer get fees on top of their current stipend. The motion was,
That the Governing Body:
- receive the report entitled ‘The Allocation of Parochial Fees in the Church in Wales April 2015′;
- approve the core principle for the allocation of fee income as set out in the report;
- note the proposed working arrangements and the intention to consult further thereon with the Bench of Bishops and Diocesan Boards of Finance;
- request the Representative Body to undertake such further consultation to enable a Bill to be prepared and brought forward in due course to implement
There was a lot of debate on this motion, many clergy expressing that they would be taken into poverty if the policy was changed. Others stated that this would make the Church in Wales financially worse off. However, everyone who spoke did agree that the principle was good.
When it came to voting I abstained, and the motion was strongly rejected. I abstained for a few reasons
- I felt it had come at the wrong time considering other big decisions that the church has to make
- I didn’t feel qualified enough as a lay person to make a yes or no decision. This was because
- I agree with the idea of getting rid of this fee system
- But listening to the experiences of some clergy (who I trust), I couldn’t help but feel that voting in favour would put them and their families at risk financially.
- It actually doesn’t affect me all that much (if the fee system was changed, I wouldn’t know the difference as a vicar)
- It was all relative to the individual. If you were a vicar in a large, urban parish, then some stated that estimates were that the vicar of such a parish may be receiving a five figure sum on top of their stipend from weddings and funerals. On the flip side, a vicar in a small rural parish would be seeing maybe a three figure sum if nothing at all.
- The whole issue raised a lot of questions about the motives of clergy, whether there should be a cap on taking fees rather than getting rid of them altogether, and also how the parish system is or isn’t working in today’s Church.
I think I’m going to need to think and pray more about this one!
Overall, I felt this was a very good Governing Body and I came away with a lot to think about. It was also great to meet lots of new people, and many of whom were singing from the same hymn sheet as me. It was good too, to met those who were of differing opinions, and I did feel that some of my views changed throughout the course of the meeting, which is probably a good thing.
Next Governing Body will be a big one too, with the major issue being that of Same Sex Marriages.
There is an overview of the Governing Body meeting called “Highlights” which you can download here.