Preseidential Address – Governing Body, April 2004

I do not know if any of you have read the book entitled “An Evil
Cradling” by Brian Keenan. Even if you haven’t read the book
you will remember that Keenan, an English teacher from Belfast, was captured
by the Hezbollah and kept in captivity and isolation for five years with
John McCarthy. In his book he tells a story about his last night in Belfast
before he left for Beirut. He walked through the streets and became very
conscious of the murals there – the huge paintings that form tribal
boundaries between one district and another.

The Protestant community boundary is marked by giant murals of King
William of Orange, sitting on a white horse, for William is seen by the
Protestant community as the one who rescued the Protestants from being
besieged by the Catholics in the 17th Century and so has come to personify
the Protestant ascendancy in Northern Ireland. The white horse is the
symbol of purity and often these murals also have depictions of the ‘Red
Hand’ of Ulster or the Union Jack. The murals often have slogans
saying “Ulster says No” as a kind of definite statement against
the unity of the whole of Ireland.

On the Roman Catholic estates what you see are huge pictures of the
Pieta – Christ the victim in the arms of Mary his mother and murals
of martyrs in the arms of Mother Erin. The depiction here is meant to
show the martyrdom of those who have tried to bring about unity in Ireland.
Very often these murals have pictures of rifles which seem to suggest
that the only way unity can be achieved is through the gun rather than
the ballot box.

These murals identify the communities in Northern Ireland. In the City
of Belfast they are boundary markers and indicators of identity. The
boundaries have become points at which the identity of one community
is seen as a clear repudiation of the identity of the other. These images
show how people have come to view themselves. Most of the people of Northern
Ireland see themselves as Protestant and harp back to the victory of
William of Orange whilst the Roman Catholic community sees itself as
a kind of victim. All of us, as individuals, or as communities or as
churches, unless we are careful, can have images of ourselves which can
define who and what we are and can constrain us. Over the last 10 years
in the Church in Wales we have had statistics which show beyond any shadow
of doubt that whatever indices you use, be that confirmation figures,
baptism figures, wedding figures, electoral roll figures, Easter communicants,
Christmas communicants, average attendances, the slide in attendance
has been downwards. In fact, in a table showing the scale of decline
in adult attendance within the dioceses of the Church of England and
the Church in Wales combined between 1990 and 1999 that is 49 Dioceses
all together, Welsh Dioceses enter the list at 36 and 37, and then occupy
places 45, 47, 48 and 49. That is the faster rate of decline – not
the least.

Just as the communities in Northern Ireland tend to think of themselves
as being stuck in a particular place with no movement possible, so too,
in the Church of God, it is possible for us to come to believe that decline
is inevitable and that there is no way out of the mess we are in. All
we can see is this downward graph, a bit like the Stock Market in recent
years with not much hope of recovery.

In this Presidential Address I want to say two things to you. The first
is that we cannot deny that the figures are bad. We live in an increasingly
secular society. We find ourselves as Christians at odds with the dominant
values of our world. The Christian faith is seen as irrelevant by many
people and that is reflected in the numbers coming to Church as measured
by the indices I have just mentioned. According to the figures for 2001/2002
you and I worship with only about 43,000 Anglicans per Sunday in a Province
of 2,903,000 people. We are, in the words of an Old Testament scholar,
resident aliens; “we are not at home in our home” says someone
else. We can feel marginalized and alienated and God too can seem to
be an absent far away God. Now, it is no good denying any of this, trying
to be like Boy Scouts whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. We
have to acknowledge that this is where we are. We have to be what someone
has called “Communities of sadness naming the losses”.

Having said all that, however, we must not think that the situation
is so desperate that nothing can be done about it and that is my second
point. The temptation is to think that nothing that we can do will make
any difference. But so often God uses the crises and challenges of the
moment to lead us into new paths and new ideas. It is here, I think,
that a bit of historical perspective comes in. If you remember, many
of the people of Israel after the sack of Jerusalem in the 6th Century
before Christ were carried off to exile in Babylon. There they sat down
by the river Chebar indulging in that most unhealthy of activities – reminiscing
about the good old days. They looked back to their past and the time
when God led them from Egypt to the Promised Land and compared that to
the mess that they were in at present. And along comes the Prophet Jeremiah
who says to them “Look, not how great was your God but how great
is your God who is even now at work among you. You will then say not
how great was our God who led us out of Exile in Egypt but how great
is our God who is leading us out of exile in Babylon” and in fact
of course that’s precisely what happened. The people of Israel
used the exile as a means under God of re-forging their faith. They refused
to give in to despair. They refused to accept that this was the beginning
of the end and they refused to accept that God had been defeated. There
is a lesson here for us. Having recognised that we are in a bit of a
mess, we have to discover afresh God’s newness in our midst, because
God can and does transform even the most hopeless of situations. “Faith” in
the words of the epistle to the Hebrews is “the assurance of things
hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. In other words what
God invites us to do is to trust in him even though we cannot see clearly
what precisely is going to happen. We need faith to trust God’s
promises, as Isaiah 54:8 says, “for with everlasting love I will
have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer”. We need
faith to believe that God will act and what gives us that confidence
is that this God has so acted in the past.

But that doesn’t mean either that you and I are helpless because
although in one sense renewal is God’s business and the establishing
of His Kingdom is God’s action – God always invites us to
join Him in His mission to the world. In other words we have our part
to play as well. We can’t just leave it all to God. We can begin
under God to turn things around. There are certain things we can do to
make that possible.

In the week that I was elected Archbishop at the end of April last year,
all the interviews were about the decline of the church and my role in
halting it. Well, it’s not my church, it’s God’s, and
it’s not all down to me because all of us are called to be his
followers and the Archbishop or any Bishop has a limited role. Those
questions were posed on a Monday. I was leaving for the Primates meeting
in Brazil on the Thursday but I had two confirmations that week. They
were Deanery Confirmations or at least half deanery ones, in that only
half of each deanery was involved in two different deaneries. In both
venues there were five to six hundred people and over fifty confirmees
in each place – many of them adults. Now I know of no other organisation
in Wales where on a weekday evening five hundred people come together
and fifty new people want to join. The other week I had two more deanery
confirmations, three hundred people in one and thirty-five confirmees
and six hundred people in the other with fifty-five confirmees. These
are signs of hope surely, as is the fact that whatever our regular attendance
figures we have contact with a significant number of people through schools,
occasional offices and special services. We still have men and women
offering themselves for ordination and they come from parishes and Christian
communities that are lively and vibrant enough to inspire people to offer
themselves for either confirmation or ordination. My fellow bishops could
give different but equally promising stories from their dioceses.

So then, what are the things that we can do to begin to turn things
around?

Some of you will say that what we need is more ordinands and more clergy.
Well, the fact is clergy have to in the end be paid for, but I don’t
think that ordaining more clergy is in any case the answer. The Diocese
of Llandaff had roughly the same number of clergy in 2003 as it had in
1993, the very period when there has been the steepest decline in membership.
More of the same therefore is not the answer. We have to begin to do
things differently. So we need to ask the question: how do we support
God’s mission to the world and how can we begin to change matters?

Last year, Bishop Dominic addressed the Llandaff Diocesan Clergy School
and he had an eminently quotable quote. He said, “madness lies,
in doing the same thing that failed the last time and expecting the results
to be different”. It is possible to have a view of the ordained
minister as the only person equipped to represent the community to God.
He or she is seen in the words of one person “as the top person”,
who does what he does vicariously, that is, he does on behalf of the
community what the community cannot do for itself. There is an alternative
view of ministry which sees leaders as representative of the community,
doing at the request of and in the name of the community the things that
the whole community needs done. Such leaders also act as reminders to
the rest of the Church that all of us are called to live daily lives
of service and witness wherever we are. A community which organises and
understands itself in this way will be characterised by decision making
processes which are open, transparent, dynamic and collaborative. The
task of leadership is to enable and empower all the members of the community
to be active disciples and contribute to the emerging church and theology.

As Archbishop Rowan says on the video ‘Restoring Hope in our church’ which
I commend to you: “part of the role of leadership in the church
is to give the right kind of permission to take risks and to ensure that
risks taken aren’t rash and unsupported. We need a lot of permission
to be given for people to try out new things and to remain in touch with
God’s world.” As clergy, Church Wardens, parish reps – you
can help give a lead.

What then are some of the other things that we can do in order for things
to change and be turned around?

  1. We have to rediscover the teaching ministry of the Church and new
    ways in which to help people learn about the faith. Research shows
    that where parishes embark on nurture courses such as Alpha or Emmaus
    people
    are drawn in to faith and to membership of the church. For example
    in the Diocese of Lichfield eighteen months ago 91 parishes were running
    Emmaus courses and of the 527 people who did the course 19% came to
    Christian
    faith or commitment. An almost identical figure came to faith through
    Alpha or through “Good News Down the Street”, the other
    most widely used course in the diocese of Lichfield. We cannot expect
    to grow
    if the only opportunities we have are worship services on Sundays.
    We have got to put on courses where we ourselves can grow in depth
    and commitment
    and where we can draw in other people so that they too can begin to
    be drawn into the life of faith.
  2. Secondly, we need as individuals
    and as parishes to focus energy and concern on mission, to touch
    more people in Wales with the Gospel.
    Too often, initiatives fail because the vision is shared by only a
    few people. We need to make sure that at every level of Church life
    in the
    province, people understand what is happening and are committed to
    taking their part in work of the Church. In the diocese of Llandaff
    I have already
    asked parishes to produce a mission action plan and asked the parish
    development team of the diocese to provide a guide to mission action
    planning, for PCCs – in other words how to share and implement some
    of the ideas that can help churches grow.
  3. Having got the vision,
    we need to turn it into reality. That’s
    where in many parishes local ministry teams will come in – to help
    to make sure that the ideas are turned into practical reality – and
    that all the gifts God has given you in your congregations and communities
    are recognised, encouraged and supported in their use. In the Province
    we have the Provincial Council for Mission and Ministry and within Dioceses
    Diocesan Officers to help turn plans into actions. Parochial Church Councils
    will need to look at the way they work and how they can give time and
    energy to do this kind of planning. Too often they just deal with the
    nuts and bolts of parish life such as buildings and structures and tend
    to neglect the spiritual side of parish life. The Province needs to produce
    a rule of life for its members so that we can deepen and broaden our
    commitment to the Gospel of Jesus.
  4. The stewardship of our own money
    has a part to play in this as well. We can all give a lead in our own
    financial giving which could transform
    parish giving and so much else beside. The Church in Wales guideline
    is 5% of take home pay. If we all took that seriously and gift aided
    it if we pay tax there would be a transformation in all kinds of ways.
  5. The Province and Dioceses are committed to helping clergy to help
    you turn things around. We have one cleric per 70 members in the province.
    Any firm having that many paid representatives would be overjoyed and
    would expect some product growth. I am sorry to talk in such crude
    terms but we do seem to spend our time often arguing about the product
    or even
    whether we have one, or whether we present it in this way or that.
    We need action. I know that in the end it is God who produces the harvest
    but sometimes we put so many obstacles in the way that that makes the
    task almost impossible even for God. He needs our co-operation. The
    whole
    thrust of scripture is that God invites us to join him in His mission
    and asks us to establish conditions so that new life can come.
  6. So
    what I am suggesting to you is that as a province, as dioceses and
    as parishes we need to covenant with one another to promise to change.
    Here are some of the areas that the province promises it will deliver.

    1. We will, through CME programmes help clergy to be leaders in mission
      not just chaplains to congregations. All of us need to be helped to
      grow congregations. We pour enormous resources into Continuing Ministerial
      Training. We need to make sure that it is relevant to the tasks needing
      to be done.
    2. Some Dioceses are embarking on courses on Christian Leadership
      so that we can grow new skills as leaders of necessary change.
    3. We
      will encourage all parishes to prioritise the use and development of
      the gifts of all the baptised for the benefit of the whole community.
      Forming local ministry leadership teams can be one very effective way
      of doing just this.
    4. We are reviewing our selection system for ordination
      and other accredited ministries to ensure that we have people who can
      offer leadership in
      mission.
    5. And of course, as we will see later in this meeting, the RB
      Review Group has now produced the discussion document as part of the
      process
      whereby we ensure that Provincial structures and financial management
      serve the church of the future as well as possible. That review ought
      to be read against the vision of the church of the future produced by
      the bench at the beginning of the report.

No one is pretending that any of this is straightforward or easy. In
the next ten years the Church in Wales will face enormous challenges.
In fact, I don’t think it is an understatement to say that, not
since disestablishment will we have faced such fundamental changes. But
the lesson of Disestablishment is that something which was not sought
or welcomed actually led to the strengthening of the Church which, because
of the commitment and vision of the clergy and people, and their readiness
to embrace change, became financially secure, strong in mission, rooted
in the life of Wales and in many ways a pioneering church.

Don’t forget either that compared to the average Anglican seen
in demographic terms we are extremely fortunate for she is an African
female, under the age of 30, mother of 3 who walks 4 kilometres a day
for water, lives on less that 1.50 dollar a day and is related to someone
with HIV/Aids.

We will have in the future to survive on fewer clergy, but with realistic
diocesan, deanery and parish strategies in place, to enable us to grow,
we can ensure that retrenchment does not lead to decline. To quote Archbishop
Rowan once more “ God always gives the Church what the Church needs
to be the Church. It may mean looking for untapped resources – you
don’t know what you’ve got until you look”. This province
is blessed with huge talent if we have the wit to pool and use it. We
need to aim for growth not for managing decline.

So the challenge is to turn our plans and dreams into action. I’m
not asking here for anything new. The Constitution of the Church in
Wales makes it absolutely clear that the primary role of a PCC is to
plan for the whole mission of the church and we need to start taking
that really seriously in practical ways. We can change – we will
change for under God all things are possible – for He is the
God who brings light out of darkness, courage out of fear and hope
out of hopelessness for He is the God of endless possibilities and
because we are His people, under Him, those things are possible for
us as well.