Thursday, 27 September 2012

Church in Wales Review

I don't know whether it is appropriate to include the following on my blog for several reasons:
1. Those reading may not know what I am referring to although I did touch on it in an earlier blog, and,
2. It is my reply to the diocese of Swansea and Brecon in response to their request for feedback, and as such, is intended more specifically for them.

However what I am trying to say is relevant to the Church in Wales at the moment and, who knows, may find resonance with others out there who are feeling a mixture of fear, excitement and deja vu in considering yet another review in a line of reviews over the years. Is this just another repositioning of deck chairs on the Titanic or something more? Time will tell. Until then here - for what its' worth - are my thoughts:

Re Provincial Review.

First ten out of ten for having one as it underlines the seriousness with which the Bench of Bishops is taking the alarming fall in congregational numbers.

With regards to the review's recommendations taken as a whole - without commenting over much on the individual suggestions - I have concerns with regards to the following:

1. The will of the vast majority of the Church population to undertake any change - let alone the ones suggested - without considerable resistance. I have discovered, with many, that if you have a predominantly older and more traditional congregation who, generally speaking, are set in their ways and pay/contribute to the vast majority of the Parish Share, any change is fiercely resisted causing whoever is overseeing them so much hassle - and fear - that the easiest option is to go along with the status quo.

2. A large section of the clergy are nearing retirement and after years of conformity will have very little appetite for change but would rather tread water until retirement. This is understandable and in some ways natural given their years of long service and the pattern of ministry they have practised over the years and which, once, worked."You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

3. Taking the above into consideration I am surprised that the board does not take on board the working models from the Church of England with regards to church plants or beginning new churches? This is based on Jesus' observation that you can't put new wine into old wine skins. Creating new wine skins - new churches - to experiment with new ideas or models of church, using less liturgy, new ways of worshipping and Christians who are open to change and spiritually energised, motivated and engaged. To change the metaphor - it's about re-seeding the church.

4. My concern was always that the average age of the panel was around the 70 mark and so their insight into younger minds and attitudes would have been necessarily limited. It is uncomfortable hearing what young people think about the church - I know I have two at home who will very quickly give me an opinion - but it is necessary if we are to reach out to them in ways that they can relate to and identify with.

5. I suspect that there is something of a hidden agenda in the review that is geared towards justifying the existence of St. Michael's College and the amount invested by the Church in Wales. I disagree with the idea that academic qualification will make better clergy as, quite patently, it has not. The emphasis, for me, should be on calling and gifting and not on how many letters I have after my name. Placing St, Michael's at the heart of our training for the Church in Wales will, I believe, hasten rather than halt our decline.

6. I am all for de-constructing the parish system and with it the notion that one person should do it all (Forder's 'The Parish Priest' should have been drowned at birth and George Herbert assassinated) but wonder about not just the size but composition of the areas that will replace them? For example with regards to churchman-ship. I personally would not be comfortable in a church that practised Benediction or used stoops of holy water at the door etc...

These are just a few thoughts - I could write a book - BUT - and it is a big BUT - I am very grateful that the conversation has started. My hope and prayer is that it will continue AND that there will be action at the end of it. One thing I would add. I would like permission for the more adventurous among us to experiment with different forms of worship and different ways of doing things without the constraints of the petty and pathetic legalities of whether what we are doing is consistent with the orders of services produced by the Church in Wales. That is the equivalent of asking us to box while at the same time tying our hands behind our backs!

I could have added much more about clergy dress, church buildings and the huge burdens they are on our shoulders especially with regards to faculties, CADW, and listed buildings. I could have mentioned the almost utter waste of time pushing for more vocations when there are few or no young people to answer the call in our churches. I could talk about the poor preparation given by theological colleges about how to take funerals and how to prepare people for marriage or baptism. Or how to preach at the aforementioned or use powerpoint and visual aids. But I will save all that for another time. Suffice to say that the Church in Wales AS IT STANDS is poorly equipped to reach out to students and young people and its structures and mindset are not mission minded - or 21 century relevant. But God has not finished with us yet and so despite the negatives I am still hopeful and optimistic.

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