Churches and chapels in Wales 'may unite'
Churches and chapels in Wales are being asked to discuss radical proposals which could result in closer unity.
Five denominations - including the Church in Wales, Presbyterians and Methodists - could ultimately share bishops, ministers and buildings.
The proposed Church Uniting in Wales would also include Presbyterians and some Baptists.
A conference in Aberystwyth will discuss the plans in response to declining funds and congregations.
The event on Saturday, called The Gathering, brings together five denominations known as the five Covenanted Churches in Wales.
The group - which together have 2,500 churches - was set up in the 1970s with the aim of working more closely together.
But economic concerns are prompting discussions of even closer unity to share resources and governance at a time when many congregations are dwindling and money is tight.
The proposal is also aimed at giving the churches a stronger shared voice in the political arena.
If given the go-ahead, a new breed of bishops would be created and be interchangeable between all denominations in the united group.
Ordained ministers would also be free to serve in all churches and chapels in the Church Uniting in Wales.
Under the plans to share resources and buildings, however, no church or chapel would be forced to close or merge and there would be no obligation to take part in the sharing of clergy.
Also, within the group, the individual denominations would remain.
A spokeswoman for the Presbyterian Church of Wales said the plans were "quite new and quite radical".
"All the denominations are realising we are getting smaller numbers but we do have strengths and resources remaining so it's a case of working out how best to use the resources," she said.
"For example, in some towns you might have two churches and a chapel. They might have a vicar but no-one in the chapel.
"If the churches united, the vicar could also serve the chapel."
She added that it was "important" for the churches to be seen to be working together and that united they would have a "stronger voice".
'A way forward'
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said Saturday's conference would see the "largest ecumenical gathering in Wales for many years".
"Our lack of unity does not help our message of reconciliation," he said.
"I hope that we can find a way forward together as churches in Wales."
The Rev Gethin Abraham-Williams, chair of the Commission of Covenanted Churches, added that he hoped the conference would lead to the creation of a new "ecclesial community committed to common mission in the world'."
A set of reports outlining the plans for more unity will be launched at The Gathering on Saturday.
Official representatives from each of the five Covenanted Churches will then take them back to their local churches and will respond to the recommendations.
In July, a report said that the Church in Wales needed to reform and modernise to secure its future and one of the recommendations was for it to work more closely with other denominations.
The study by three leading Anglicans highlighted "very low morale" in some parishes and said the situation was one of "dire seriousness".
It looked at 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.