Retirements put pressure on Pembrokeshire clergy

Image caption,
The Reverend John Powell is the latest of four vicars to leave the Diocese of St Davids

An ongoing recruitment crisis has left some vicars covering more than a dozen parishes.

And in the Diocese of St Davids in Pembrokeshire the problem is particularly acute following a flood of retirements.

The Reverend John Powell of St Mary's in Cardigan is set to retire at the end of August after eight years in post.

His departure will leave just three vicars covering the 27 parishes in the diocese.

The search for his Welsh-speaking replacement could be lengthy and will add pressure on the many lay preachers and volunteers the diocese already depends on.

Mr Powell told BBC Wales that replacements will be found in due course and the future of the Welsh ministry could lie in the hands of the congregation and lay preachers instead of vicars.

He said: "We are quite short at the moment because four including myself have retired in close sequence which has left a huge gap.

"But I don't see this as a crisis and I think this is a real opportunity for lay people and people of God to come to the fore and get involved."

He said the job now includes many more administration and fund-raising pressures than just pastoral duties.

He said: "I personally have spent so much time raising money, something people don't normally regard as a vicar's job."

The recruitment gap is echoed in Aberporth where the Reverend John Matthews left St Cynwyl's six months ago and at Manordeifi, where nobody has yet been found to replace Father Paul Mackness.

In St Dogmaels, where the Rev Dorrien Davies moved to St Davids Cathedral, army chaplain Aled Thomas has just been appointed and will start in August.

The number of full-time clergy has been falling in recent years with a net loss of more than 100 between 2004 and 2009. And there are no immediate signs of improvement with a quarter of the current clergy set to retire before 2020.

The Church in Wales recently launched a five-year recruitment strategy to attract more people to the clergy but has yet to see signs of return.

David Hammond-Williams, communications officer for the Diocese of St Davids, agreed there are problems with recruitment and these are not unique to West Wales.

'Already stretched'

He said: "We have had a cluster of retirements and we are actively recruiting in those areas but it is not happening as immediately as some of our parishioners might like."

Part of the burden of work in Mr Powell's absence will fall on lay preachers like Christine Watts in Cardigan.

She said: "The remaining vicars have their own churches to cover and are already stretched so it will be the duty of lay people and retired clergy to help.

"It will require a lot of work from volunteers but I think it's a chance for the church to move forward and find new ways of working and there is enough support in the parish."

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