Church in Wales modernisation plans unveiled

Radical change is needed if the Church in Wales is to secure its future, according to a report.

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Radical plans to reform and modernise the Church in Wales are needed to secure its future, a review says.

A report recommends forming "super size" parishes run by vicars and lay people and holding non-traditional services on days other than Sunday.

The study by three leading Anglicans highlights "very low morale" in some parishes.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said the church knew it had problems and that change was "crucial".

The report says the situation is one of "dire seriousness", and the church's governing body will consider it.

It follows a year-long review commissioned by the Church in Wales in a bid to restructure and reinvent itself ahead of its centenary in 2020.

The review group, chaired by the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, assessed the church's financial resources and examined its organisational structure.

It also looked into how the church could adapt to cope with the decline in clergy, falling congregations, a surplus number of churches and a large repair bill for its buildings.

The review's findings have been compiled in a report which makes 50 recommendations, including:

  • Replacing parishes with larger "ministry areas", each containing around 25 parishes, which would mirror the catchment areas of secondary schools, where possible. They would be served by a team of clergy and lay people. The report said that small parishes are no longer sustainable, with some priests having to serve as many as 10 parishes, "with all the extra attendance at meetings and administration this involves".
  • Training lay people to play a greater part in church leadership.
  • Engaging more with young people by working more closely with all schools, not just church schools, along with using social media and training people in the church who can relate to them.
  • Developing new forms of worship to reach out to those unfamiliar with church services, such as holding them at times other than Sunday morning, perhaps in other buildings like schools.
  • Using some church buildings for use by the whole community, while possibly closing others that are not needed.
  • Selling parsonages so that clergy can buy or rent their own homes.
  • Working more closely with other denominations.
  • Making it a priority to nurture Welsh-speaking ordinands in the church.

The review group visited every diocese in Wales and spoke to around 1,000 people who attended open meetings.

Its report said: "The overwhelming impression we have received from these meetings and submissions is an awareness of the need for change, a desire to change, and a commitment to change."

Analysis

The "dire situation" of the Church in Wales, especially its "miniscule" contact with young people make grim reading for its members, but the truth is that the Church is by no means alone.

In Wales the collapse in attendance at a range of chapels - congregational, presbyterian and methodist - has been dramatic, and a chapel closes on average once a week.

But across western Europe churches are struggling to adapt to a sceptical, secular, society.

When the Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan launched today's report last April, he already knew the way it was structured, and caters for contemporary society, needed to be reinvented.

It will mean fewer churches, and clergy spread more thinly but doing what they are best at.

Perhaps most important, it means more imaginative services devised for a generation who according to the study regard Christianity as a "foreign language" and what goes on in churches as "strange, even alien".

The Church of England has had encouraging results from its own "fresh expressions" initiatives, and elsewhere in Europe churches have bold and even controversial programmes for winning back young people.

The alternative seems to be ageing, and inexorable decline.

The report said the church was experiencing a "moment of crisis and judgement", adding: "In addition to congregations declining, a high percentage of the clergy retiring and a shortage of ordinands, the number of young people with whom the church is in contact is minuscule."

It added: "The population as a whole is now very unfamiliar with the church, finding its language and services strange."

'Too parochial'

Dr Morgan welcomed the report and said it made "some very perceptive and insightful comments and recommendations".

He said: "We, as a church, will have to give serious consideration to this report and its recommendations from parish up to province and decide where we go from here."

The archbishop told BBC Wales: "I think the faith is there, I think people do believe in God, I think there are more believers around than non-believers.

"It's a failure on the part of the church somehow or other to engage with them."

He said that while subjects such as gay marriage and women bishops were important for the church to discuss, other issues also needed to be talked about, such as reaching young people.

Dr Morgan agreed the idea of larger ministry areas was a good one, saying that the church could be "too parochial" and that teams of people working together "happens in every other walk of life".

He also said that there were too many churches in Wales, adding: "We need to close some and adapt some."

But Wales Office minister David Jones pointed the finger at the Archbishop involvement in politics as a factor in declining congregations.

Although he has stayed clear of party politics, Dr Morgan has been a vocal campaigner for more devolution.

Writing on Twitter, Clwyd West MP Mr Jones said: "Perhaps Church in Wales would not be in such decline if its most senior cleric were a little less political. Just a thought."

Dr Morgan has joined other church leaders in opposing Welsh government plans to change the law on organ donation and last year said he would let anti-capitalist protesters shelter at Llandaff Cathedral.

Last Christmas he said the church had a duty to "get its hands dirty".

Mixed reaction to church review

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