Presidential Address – Governing Body, September 2004
In this presidential address I want to speak about three matters that are, or should be, of concern to all of us, namely the governance of Wales, the future of the Anglican Communion and the future of the Church in Wales. As you can see I only believe in tackling minor issues!
Let me start with our own nation – Wales. As you know, the First Minister of the National Assembly of Wales appointed an independent commission under the chairmanship of Lord Ivor Richard to review the scope of the assembly’s powers and whether they were adequate to meet the needs of modern Wales. The Commission, whose members included politicians from every party, academics and others who know a great deal about Wales and every aspect of its life, concluded unanimously in March this year that Wales should have a legislative assembly; to exercise this power and ensure proper scrutiny there needed to be an increase of assembly members from 60 -80, that there should be a single transferable voting system and that all this should happen by 2011. Well, you might say we know all that but why should you as archbishop involve yourself in this debate, still less chair a group called Tomorrow’s Wales whose aim is to try and get the recommendations of the Richard Commission discussed more widely? Or put less politely as someone did recently in a letter, "Haven’t you got enough problems in your own church to solve and what has all this got to do with a religious leader?". And there we get to the nub of the problem. For the implication of that criticism is that the Christian faith has nothing to do with the issues of daily living but has to do with a relationship with God, separate from and abstracted from the problems of the world in which we live. And the snag is too many people believe it. For them the Christian faith is about studying the scriptures, saying one’s prayers and going to worship but has little relevance to the world in which we live with all its difficulties. Religion then is abstracted from life and you can study the scriptures without asking what relevance they might have to living out the life of discipleship in the world. And we know that in the past, those Christians who have spoken out against injustice, inequality and unfairness be that at home or abroad have been accused of getting involved in politics, whereas true religion has been seen as something personal and private involving only one’s own personal morals.
But the God of both the Old Testament and of Jesus is the creator of the whole world, a world which he created out of love, so that everything in it that diminishes or dehumanises people is of concern to him. And the very meaning of incarnation, as I understand it, is that this God of Jesus got involved in the mess of daily living not by being religious and only going to synagogues and temples but by touching the lives of those who had been excluded by the religious, moral and political authorities of his day for being immoral, untouchable, irreligious and by mixing with such people criticized the civil and religious institutions of his day implicitly as well as doing so explicitly and thus made some pretty powerful political statements about God, the world and the religious establishment..
By the same token, being involved in politics means being involved in how we organise ourselves in society and if society is so organised that people are excluded because of the colour of their skin, or gender or sexual orientation then the Christian Gospel is of relevance. And it is of relevance too in how we organise ourselves as a nation. Surely it is of concern to Christians and non Christians alike that a commission which has no axe to grind has concluded that a national assembly in Wales with primary law making powers will make for more transparency in Government and allow for a more integrated policy making process and enable the needs of the people of Wales to be met in a better way than they are met now. Even if one cannot agree with those conclusions, we can surely agree that the issues are worthy of discussion because an independent cross party commission reached a unanimous conclusion and raised these matters in a document about the governance of Wales, the like of which we have never had before. That is why, when I was approached by several politicians from different parties and by others in Welsh Civil Society asked to initiate a debate about these matters I agreed to do it, having consulted my brother bishops and other religious leaders in Wales. For the Commission itself did not consider it part of its brief to take the matter forward and the First Minister who commissioned the report has said that he does not intend to take forward its recommendations but is now proposing something different. This report raises in acute form the nature of devolved government. So I am heeding the plea of the Mothers’ Union (no less) that clergy should speak out on political and social issues.
Let me turn now to the Anglican Communion. I have been far more involved in its affairs since becoming Archbishop than I had anticipated. My intention was to settle into my new role in Wales and then get more involved in the affairs of the Communion if I was asked to do so. In the event I have found myself on the Primates Standing Committee and consequently on the Anglican Consultative Council and if that were not enough on the Eames Commission and also on the Appointment Committee for the new Secretary General. We appointed as Secretary General (as you may have heard) a fellow Celt – Canon Ken Kearon from the Church of Ireland – the Director of the Irish School of Ecumenics. He will bring to the Communion his considerable intellectual gifts and charm, as well as his experience of conflict resolution and mediation in Northern Ireland. But the result of all this involvement on my part has meant a great deal of time spent on Communion matters.
The Eames Commission is finalizing its report which will be presented to Archbishop Rowan. It will be discussed in October by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee of Primates and then next February by the 38 Archbishops of the Communion meeting in Northern Ireland. All Archbishops will be asked to seek the views of their Provinces before they arrive. That presents us in Wales with a few problems. First, I obviously cannot tell you what is in the report because that, at the moment, is confidential and secondly this Governing Body won’t have a chance to examine it before the Archbishops meet, so I do not really know how to seek the views of the Province. I will discuss it with my brother Bishops but perhaps a group from the Province might be set up to look at it and comment upon it. It is not a report giving definitive answers to the issue of homosexuality in the church, as many people believe. The Commission was not charged with that task. Rather, the Commission was asked to find ways of keeping the Communion intact when some provinces had moved ahead on particular issues (and those issues did not necessarily have to be issues to do with human sexuality, although those were the presenting issues at present), which other provinces regarded as controversial and problematic. In short, how do we make decisions as a Communion? How do we govern our common life? What means do we have for either consultation or restraint?
But you might ask, why does the Anglican Communion matter? It matters because Communion is God’s gift to us, and what God has given we should not, dare not spurn. God has given us in this Communion people who are very different from ourselves. They are however His gift to us, as we, hopefully, may be his gift to them. Gifts are means of grace and as such are to be cherished and nourished, not rejected and cast aside. The Communion consists of nearly 100 million Anglicans across the various countries of our world. They are people like us who believe in the authority of scripture, the creeds, the sacraments and the historic episcopate but who in other ways are culturally very different from us. As one report puts it "the Communion describes a theologically identifiable group of particular, regional churches which embody reformed, catholic faith and trace their original existence and inspiration to the mission or ministry of the Church of England or churches closely associated with it".
The Communion matters because in our world it is often non-governmental organisations rather than governments which express the aspirations of populations. The Anglican Communion is one of the largest non-governmental organisations in the world and so has a major contribution to make as a trans-national civic society in bringing hope, reconciliation and transformation to the communities of our world. We have seen how that has happened already in countries such as Kenya and South Africa. The Communion matters therefore for the witness to truth and justice that it makes to our world as well as the vitally important expression of what it means to be a member of the Christian family. This Communion also has companionship links across the world, partnership and mission links, inter-Anglican networks and religious orders helping to bind it together. Do we want to throw all that away?
For it is a Communion not a Federation as is the case with the Lutheran Church. Thus there are no formalised overlapping jurisdictions except in Europe and as Anglicanism was exported, the model was not a hierarchally centrally run church with unity maintained by magisterial rulings or uniformity but a familial one held together by bonds of affections. Lutheranism consists of a number of pre existing groups coming together by agreement. The familial model however evokes from provinces the building up of ways of articulating the bonds they have in common as they develop. The familial model is different from the federal model since the latter consists of churches coming together and surrendering certain rights and privileges in order to gain others. The familial model recognises the history and tradition we have in common needing some kind of institutional support. The difference between the federal and the familial model is the difference between a group of friends renting a house together and to a family living together under one roof.
Professor Daniel Hardy writes that "In Anglicanism, unity is found in movement towards others, not in moving apart, no matter how well rationalised". Why, because it is a response to God’s movement towards his world and so as Ephesians 4:2-3 puts it, "We must bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace". The crucial question then is how do we do that? Let me just outline three ways in which that can be made possible:
Firstly, by listening to one another. This can best be summed up by a passage I came across the other day, having nothing to do with the Anglican Communion as such but we could certainly benefit from the advice:
"Can you just listen? When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem. Listen. All I asked was that you listen, not talk or do, just hear me".
Secondly, we need to remember our Anglican tradition and our particular way of doing theology. It was Isaac Williams, the Vice Principal of this College and a Welsh Tractarian to boot, who wrote on "Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge". "We need" he says "an abstention from over-hasty doctrinal definition and a commitment to the mystery of God’s presence with us". In other words, Anglicanism has been about definitive questions not definitive answers. Richard Hooker, that sixteenth century divine in his Law of Ecclesiastical Polity had this to say "Although to know God be life, and joy to make mention of his name: yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know him not as indeed he is, neither can know him: and our safest eloquence concerning him is our silence, when we confess without confession that his glory is inexplicable, his greatness above our capacity and reach. He is above, and we upon earth; therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few". "Surely" says the psalmist " you are a God who hides yourself". A bit of reticence therefore about how exactly God reveals himself would not go amiss.
Thirdly, we need to remember that the witness of the Gospel and of Jesus is to an inclusive community, not to an exclusive community. This means associating with and striving to understand and value, as well as accepting as brothers and sisters not just people who are most like us or who are related to us or those with whom we feel at ease, but those who are least like us and who do things differently and whom we might find it difficult to get on with. Richard Hooker again, "Pray God that none may be offended if I seek to make the Christian religion an inn where all may be received joyously rather than a cottage where some few friends or family might be entertained".
One of the key passages of the famous 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality was, and I quote, that "the Anglican Communion commits itself to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and wishes to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised believing faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the body of Christ". It is a section that tends to be ignored. It is good therefore that we now have in the Province a study guide to commend to you arising out of our discussions at this Governing Body last September. You will recall that the Bishops promised a study guide, to give food for thought and reflection. This guide in Theology Wales, which will soon be available has been edited by the Reverend Jenny Wigley and it contains articles written from many different perspectives. It is a fact, that in many countries of our world, people are being persecuted simply because of their sexual orientation. In fact there are 80 countries in the world, which persecute gay and lesbian people through their penal codes with punishments ranging from death to mutilation and imprisonment. We do not, as a church, want to do anything that adds to the suffering and marginalisation of such people.
Let me now lastly move to the Church in Wales. The problems we face should be fairly easy to solve against the background of everything else that I have said so far!! At this Governing Body we will be dealing with the whole question of the size of the membership of this body and also with the RB Review Group’s work on the finances and structure of the Church in Wales. There is no doubt that the Church in Wales faces more changes in the next ten years than since Disestablishment. Disestablishment was viewed with horror by most people when it was threatened and certainly by all the Bishops in Wales in the 1900’s. Over the years however disestablishment has come to be seen as one of the best things that could have happened to us as we became independent of the state and responsible for our own affairs. By the same token the work of this RB Review Group may well be seen by some as a terrible document. But in time it may well be seen as one of the necessary things that needed to happen to us as a church. Why do I say that? The Church in Wales has been more financially cushioned over the years than any other single province in the whole of the Anglican Communion. Most of the costs of running our church has to date been borne by central church funds financed by the benefactions of the past. This Report is totally honest with us as a church in telling us that the amount of financial subsidy received in the past is no longer sustainable because the money is not there. Our central budget is running at a deficit and the pension bill is getting larger and larger. We have to take the financial responsibility for running this church. The trouble with any kind of dependence is that it stops us from taking that full responsibility for our own affairs. What the RB Review Group is telling the dioceses of the Church in Wales is, that from 2009 onwards, the subsidy for the maintenance of ministry will totally disappear and that from 2007 to 2009 instead of the central church paying for specified items of expenditure, it will give each diocese a block grant and each diocese will be able to determine for itself on what precisely it wants to spend its money. That block grant may also disappear after 2009 depending on the financial climate. It means therefore that we have to be mature enough to face that challenge and to respond to the financial demands made upon us in a way that our sister provinces have done for years and in a way our own disestablished church did in the 1920’s. If you look at the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church or the Church of Ireland, still less any other province in the Communion, then you will find that the situation we now face they faced a long time ago. They have risen to the challenge and so must we. It also means that we as dioceses will in future determine our own expenditure because we will be responsible for raising it. It is ironic that as a Bishop no one questions me if I decide to employ ten more clergy because that is assumed to be a good and right use of resources. The minute I employ one lay person to look after the needs of lay people, then the cry goes up of "where is the money to come from". I hope that under the new system that will not happen for we will realise that any mature church needs to equip lay people as well as clergy for God’s mission and ministry. In fact what we need to do, as the bishops’ section of this report makes clear is recognise that mission and ministry belong to all of us by virtue of our baptism not just to the clergy and that the clergy are here to help the whole church serve God in His mission towards his world.
The trouble with us very often as a church is that we vote for things in principle or accept in theory the situation we are in, but when it comes to actually making hard decisions pull back. We have a track record as a church of saying that we approve of a whole host of things in theory but when it comes to turning the theory into practice, we lose our nerve. So in the 1970s we voted in theory for a totally new structure and reconfiguration of dioceses. When it came to the crunch we voted for the status quo. In the late 1980s we voted in theory for a Primatial See. When it came to the crunch we voted for the status quo. In the 1960s we said that in theory there were no theological objections to the Ordination of Women to the Diaconate and Priesthood and so were among the first provinces to ordain women to the diaconate. We then baulked at ordaining them to the priesthood and only did so in 1997. We were among the first to vote for a revision of the liturgy in the 1960s. We then had little or no liturgical reform until the early 90’s. We voted in theory for an ecumenical bishop and then turned down the actual proposal in front of us. I hope that this time things will be different and that as we face some hard decisions we will not say "we approve in theory, but don’t ask us to put our approval to the test". It is make up your mind time for the Church in Wales. I hope we will not be found wanting.