VISITATION 2006

VISITATION 2006

One of the adjudicators at this year’s National Eisteddfod in Swansea said, that before he was going to begin his adjudication proper, he wanted to have a bit of a moan about the sending in at the last moment the pieces of music chosen.  I have every sympathy with him but I want to have not a little moan but a big moan, so let us get that out of the way at the beginning.  If only all the papers had come in just before the deadline, as in the case of the Eisteddfod, I would not bother to mention it at all.

Having originally asked for the Visitation Returns by the end of April, I took pity on you and extended the deadline until the end of May, only to find that papers are still coming in and some parishes have still not responded in full in spite of repeated requests from the archdeacons.  Now that simply will not do.  The diocese has not had to fill in forms of this magnitude since 2002 and lots of people in every walk of life have to do so far more frequently and face the consequences if they do not.  Do not forget either that the archdeacons and I read them all and try to analyse them, “At risk” says one archdeacon “to his blood pressure levels”.  I quote the same archdeacon, lest you think this is merely a personal complaint, “In some returns I felt a reluctance to fill in forms and in some cases there appears to be abdication by the incumbent who just handed them over to parish officers”.  He goes on to say, “The completion of the Visitation Returns should be the responsibility of the incumbent and church officers together”.  We should not be like the priest in a post card, sent to me by one of you, sitting in a chair watching one of his parishioners sorting out produce for the parish fair.  And I will be responding to every parish with observations about their returns – something I have done for every episcopal visitation I have conducted – so it does involve an enormous amount of work for me too.  I do not ask these questions for the sake of asking them and I do expect time and reflection to be given to them, neither of which has happened in some cases, where even when they have been returned, some of the questions have not been answered at all and perfunctory answers have been given to some of the others.  Right, I have got that off my chest, now let’s move onto something more positive.

The whole purpose of Visitation Returns and an occasion such as this, is that it gives me a chance to make some observations about the life of the diocese, to thank you as clergy and lay officers for all that you have done and are doing to witness to the gospel and to give some kind of pointers to the future.  It is said regarding the future that there are three kinds of people.  Those who let it happen, those who make it happen and those who wonder what happened!  You will know what category you fall in to.

I jokingly told Archbishop Rowan that there had been more changes in the Province since he left than since Disestablishment and I think the same is true of this diocese.  This September I will have been with you as Bishop for seven years and consequently will have served longer in this post than any other.  Being Archbishop has complicated it a bit but there is not much I can do about that.  Just as the Province has seen changes in its financial structures, committee structures and Governing Body membership, so too, as a diocese, we have had to come to terms with a number of things:

  1. We have to rely less on paid clergy because there will be fewer of us by 2013.  Each Deanery has either got plans or is well on the way to having plans for the strategic placing of the clergy under the oversight of the archdeacons and the bishops.  That has been a painful exercise but it is now largely done and a lot of thought has gone into it all and I am grateful.
  2. The upside of that has been the development of the ministry of all God’s people.  That is theologically right but it often takes a crisis situation to force us to do what is theologically right.  There are all kind of courses for equipping lay ministry on all kinds of topics in the diocese and lots of people have taken advantage of all these courses.  If we are to reduce the number of paid clergy, we must not think in terms of them doing more jobs in more places and simply adding on more parishes and churches.  We need to realise that God’s mission is entrusted to all of us.  Old habits die hard.  One parish without an incumbent wrote to say it was waiting for a new incumbent to support his activities.  Actually clergy are there to support the parish’s activities.  Theological education is an ongoing process. Let me draw your attention to the new Llandaff Travelling School booklet for 2006/7 and the great variety of courses it offers.
  3. We have tried to plan for growth and how to grow congregations, and some clergy have already been on courses to do with that and I am hoping that all of us in due course will do that.
  4. Ninety-five per cent of parishes have developed Mission Action Plans and that has enabled them to think out how they see the future.  For the first time in some instances there has been some strategic thinking
  5. All the clergy will have been, by the end of this year, on a Leadership Course.
  6. Most parishes in the diocese have committed themselves to financial help for the Church overseas, realising that a parish that lives to and for itself alone, will die.  I am glad that at a time when the financial squeeze is on that parishes have not neglected their care for others.
  7. We do now have a link with the Swedish Diocese of Uppsala, and people from this diocese have visited there and a large group from that diocese has visited us, and I have just come back from the installation service of the new archbishop.
  8. We are now a Fair-trade Diocese.

All these things therefore need to be celebrated, because the end result is that there is more activity by more people and more courses than perhaps at any time in the history of the diocese.  I know that it hasn’t always been easy, so I want to thank you as clergy and laity for being willing to embrace the change to support Mission Action Planning and deployment in the Deaneries and to thank you for the work that has also gone into Child Protection policies, health and safety audits and disability discrimination.

The result of all of this, for both 2004 and 2005, is that there has been a small upturn in average attendance.  Although the number of Easter communicants is slightly down, numbers for Pentecost are up, as are numbers for Christmas and Trinity III.  In fact, there are now more worshippers at Christmas than at Easter.  The average attendance, when you take weekdays and Sundays into account is up and the numbers on Electoral Rolls have risen. (The numbers in some of the other Church in Wales dioceses are down.) They may not have risen substantially but at least we are now moving in the right direction.  I am not stupid enough to think that growth and statistics are the be all and end all of the life of the Church but at least it shows that with effort and with planning, people can be drawn into the life of faith and that is surely important.  The small upturns in 2004 and 2005 are the first upturns in a decade.  It is right to include weekday attendance because new patterns of worship are emerging, and given the pressure on family life and everything else that goes on on Sundays, I think we have got to find ways of providing imaginative worship on weekdays for people.  I do not mean by that just the odd said Eucharist but I mean something that captures the attention of people because the research that has been done on this challenges the church to think about ways in which we can engage people at various times of the week.  We, as clergy, tend to think of weekday worship as not being that important.  As I look back at my own ministry, when I had a congregation of ninety on a Thursday morning, I think that I could have made much more imaginative use of that service than I actually did.

Therefore, all of these things are encouraging signs and what we need to do now is to keep up the momentum.  So there is no need to despair.  Professor Grace Davie, of Exeter University, reminds us that the Christian tradition has had an irreversible effect on the shaping of this country and its institutions.  Our weeks and years follow the Christian cycle.  Churches are still of symbolic value.  Moreover, she goes on to remind us that we ought not to underestimate the role of vicarious religion, that is religion performed by a minority on behalf of a larger number (by the way that is where the word vicar comes from).    The role of churches in conducting ritual on behalf of a wide variety of individuals and communities at critical points in their lives such as births, marriages but especially death, is very important.  As clergy, we can be a bit blasé about all this but, as she puts it, “The refusal to offer either a funeral liturgy or appropriate pastoral care would violate deeply held assumptions”.  Few people, even today, have totally secular ceremonies at a time of death.  What tends to happen is that a priest is present, there is a Christian structure but there are lots of different other elements added e.g. secular music or readings with perhaps a eulogy or homily such as happened at the funeral of Princess Diana.  As I go about the diocese I hear from more than one of you of people who have come to faith as a result of the ministry of the Church at a time of crisis.

Grace Davie argues that vicariousness matters.  And she reminds us that vicariousness is prevalent in Europe but not in the United States of America because the Church in Europe is regarded as a public utility rather than a private organisation.  The thing about a public utility is that it is available to the population as a whole at the point of need.  Put more theologically in the words of William Temple, “The Church of God exists for its non members”.  The Church in America is not seen in such a light and we need to remember that.  In other words then the place of the Church is still significant in this country and it maintains the tradition on behalf of others.  But a change is taking place from a culture of obligation or duty to a culture of consumption or choice.  I go to church because I want to fulfil a particular need but I have no obligation to go.  It is a consumer choice, not a cult of obligation.  But all of this fits in with vicariousness – “Churches need to be there in order that I may attend them if I so choose”.  So although the Confirmation of children is in decline, and that is partly because of course we now administer the Eucharist before Confirmation, lots more adults get confirmed and this is down to their own choice.  Confirmation therefore is significant for those who choose this option, as indeed is the Baptism of adults before Confirmation.

Our world, in spite of all its woes, is a world that is searching for meaning.  People define themselves as spiritual but not religious.  In other words they have faith of a sort, and believe in God, practise meditation but do not have much to do with the institutional church.  Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor writing about this phenomenon says that we should not describe all this as a religious revival but it is a revival of interest in things spiritual.  Young people seek courses in religion and spirituality and people are searching for value and meaning.  The Cardinal writes, “There is a search for transcendence, that is a recognition of the possibility that life is much more than we can physically see, touch or hear.”  If that is so, that is fertile ground for you and me to build on – we need to connect with this world where so many people are yearning for the things of the Spirit.  The seed we have is not falling on stony ground – we need to think imaginatively and creatively about how we scatter it.

What Kind of Church are We?

There are in this diocese 139 parishes, 249 churches, 143 stipendiary clergy and 10 non-stipendiary clergy, the average attendance is 15,600, we have 26 church schools with 8,000 pupils and 400 teachers.  What kind of Church then do we want to be or rather what kind of Church does God want us to be?  But before we can answer that question, we cannot deny the reality of the situation we are in as a Church.  We have got to be realistic.  Nor will it do either to hark back to a glorious past because actually I am not sure it was that glorious when I look at some of the registers.  Nor should we think of ourselves as battening down the hatches and hanging on in there until we think the storm has passed and people will come round to our viewpoint again.  What we need is to be renewed, reformed and transformed.  We are not alone in facing some of the problems we face.  The Church of England is facing the same problems but interestingly enough the Church in Australia is facing the same problems.  The Church in the Diocese of Melbourne rather describes its past as going through a number of phases and it struck me that perhaps we are in a similar position.  The pioneer period was the period when people settled in, when homes and farms were built.  Then came the establishment phase, when small towns were established with banks and businesses.  Then rural decline set in with economic changes, with fewer jobs and population falls, and so Australian society and Church had to adjust to a new pioneer phase of renewal whereby farms have had to be consolidated, there has been an economy of scale and the way that farms are staffed and run changed.  The Church in Australia has gone through the same phases and perhaps we too need to adjust to undergoing a pioneer phase again because what we need to do is to grow Christian disciples in strong, healthy, local congregations.  In other words then, we invest in the future and face the situation we are in, and the role of the diocese is to help and foster parishes as they try to grow Christian disciples.  It is there to offer advice, be of service and the whole meaning of the word service is diakonos, and the bishop and officers and archdeacons are there in order to serve the diocese, to enable local initiatives to flourish, and certainly not to hinder them.  We exist to encourage, advise and sometimes prod.

So then let us go back to basics and ask the question that I just asked – what does God want of us – what kind of Church does God want us to be?  When I speak about the Church I use the word Church in the New Testament sense of that word, the Church as the Christian community, God’s people.  What is it for – what are we for?

First and foremost we exist for worship.  That is our central role.  We believe that we do not stand at the pivot of the world, God stands there.  So the Church exists primarily to give worth to God, that is what the word worship means.  It is not then an organisation that exists in and to itself, it exists for God.  It is all too easy to forget that, since the Church can so easily engender its own life and agenda, supposedly in the name of the God it believes in.  The Church is here to offer on behalf of the world the praise that the world has forgotten how to express – we are back to the vicariousness of Grace Davie again.  Worship is love on its knees before the beloved and only the best will do.  Good worship does not just happen.  It needs to be prepared, it needs to be thought about, and it needs to be done with dignity and with holiness.  We need then as a Church, to remember that we are a praying, worshipping community giving the best that we can to God.  We are here to offer to God the honour due to his name and to foster and kindle a thirst for God.  As one theologian puts it, “At the heart of the Universe there is that which is the source and standard of all value”.  I cannot see how we can do that, unless we foster this sense of the numinous through prayer and bible study and loving worship.  We simply cannot rely on Sunday worship in the traditional sense and hope that somehow people will be attracted to that if it is unprepared and sloppy.  The Jews did not proselytise, they relied on lovely worship to bring people in to their synagogues.  What of us?  You will remember the story of Moses in the Old Testament climbing Mount Sinai to encounter God and as he does so a cloud envelops him.  Both the Old Testament and the New Testament take the view that the nearer one gets to God the less one is able to see because the journey towards God leads to a cloud of unknowing.   But while Moses is on top of the mountain the people of Israel are worshipping an idol that they have built for themselves at the foot of the mountain.  They cannot cope with the idea that God is beyond them and is to be approached with awe and mystery.  They want a God they can cut down to size, a God they can handle, a God who can be measured precisely, a God who is predictable.  In fact, of course, God remains beyond human ideas about him and is beyond us because as the Old Testament says, no one can see the face of God and live.  Once we cut God down to size and make him some kind of thing, we are worshipping a golden calf and that is idolatry.  We need then to engender this sense of the divine and it is a fact that people in our world are looking for that encounter with the divine.

But you may say to me, all of that has no real practical value.  Singing hymns, as somebody put it, does not feed the hungry.  It is a fact that on one level worship is useless.  It is offered for its own sake.  And yet on another level it is concerned with what human life is all about.  Worship takes us out of ourselves and helps us to lose ourselves in God.  It then shows us life in the world in the light of God who is love and who loves this world.  In other words, then worshipping God should also deepen our concern for the world.  Unless it does that it is not true worship.  Worship changes or ought to change the way we see things.  It reorders our priorities.  Bishop Michael Ramsey once said that, “Every act of worship is a profound act of service to the whole human race”.  True worship is about giving glory to God and by so doing being transformed into his likeness of love.  Religion, as somebody put it, ‘Isn’t about having weird experiences, it is about change, it is about seeing things differently’.  Blessed ourselves, we ought then to be carriers of blessing for our world and that is the true purpose of both mission and evangelism.  It is not about getting people into church.  Nor is it about telling people how bad they are in order to frighten them into belief.  It is about sharing the good news that God actually loves them.  And we all have a part to play in that because most people come to faith through relationships – 82% of people say that they were helped to come to faith by members of their families and friends.  People don’t necessarily have to understand everything before they belong.  We tend to think of people as first of all having to believe lots of things before they belong and come to church.  In fact the very opposite happens.  It used to be thought, you see, that in order to evangelise you had somehow to encounter people with the gospel and present it through words.  They would then commit themselves to God and then after all that had happened you would bring them to church in order for them to express their new found faith.  In other words, believing came before belonging.   Actually it is the other way round.  Someone is introduced to the church through a member of his family or through friendship and he begins to ask questions and he is invited to come to church or a nurture group and as a result of that belonging comes to a fuller faith and wants to take it further.  But, of course, we can’t even offer that for people unless we as Christians deepen our own faith and our own discipleship.  Too many parishes have no regular bible study groups, or prayer groups, or offer any kind of evangelism groups, or provide any kind of introduction to the Christian faith.   If we ourselves don’t take our faith seriously, why should we expect others to do so?

Many parishes have adopted the Rule of Life and we all need to take that seriously.  If we all observed that rule, then who knows the effect that we might have, because in a series of small but significant steps we would be deepening our own discipleship and commitment to Jesus through regular reading of the scriptures, by trying to understand what the faith is about, by regular prayer, by regular giving, by trying to serve the world about us.  So we need a church that worships God, prayerfully, devoutly and that nurtures people and opens us up and out to the grace of God.  In other words, we need a church that through worship is so transformed that it ministers to our world and tends to its woundedness.  What is distinctive about the church’s ministry is that it is rooted in God and is transformed by his grace.

You may think that I have talked in generalities and perhaps I have, but these generalities are actually basic things we should never forget.  Let me then give you specific things that need to be looked at in the diocese:

  1. We, as clergy and particularly my generation of clergy, see the ordained ministry as primarily there to offer good pastoral care.  That is good and necessary but it is not enough.  We need leader pastors not just pastor maintainers.  We are looking to recruit and train for ordained ministry people who can lead congregations, who can initiate change, be innovative and who can reinvigorate people.  That is why we have all, as clergy been on a Leadership Course and that is why, as well, we will initiate courses about how to grow churches and make churches grow.   All of this ought to help us to communicate, to motivate others, to build teams and community and enable us, hopefully, to impart vision.  Stipendiary clergy are here to lead teams of non-stipendiary ministers, deacons, readers, youth leaders, eucharistic ministers, lay people to worship and to serve our parishes.  But this latter group is not there to fill the gaps, but to offer the church’s ministry in their own right – led, enabled, encouraged by stipendiary clergy.
  2. There has been a lot of fuss from some quarters about the fact that we have to cut the number of stipendiary clergy from 150 to 112.  At the same time there have been complaints about an increase in parish share.  But if we kept our numbers at 150 – how would we pay for them?    Too many parishes seem to think that clergy numbers have no effect on parish share, whereas the two are inextricably linked.  We have done the hard work associated with getting down to the requisite number by 2013.  Our great problem after 2013, however, is not that we will have too many clergy, but that we will have too few.  In 2007 there are no ordinations to the full-time ministry. In 2008 there are only two and in 2009, at the minute, there will only be one.  Unless, we increase the number of youngish ordinands for the stipendiary ministry then this diocese will be under staffed in the future.  We need to foster vocations, particularly young vocations.  It would be absolutely disastrous for us as a diocese, either to stop ordaining or to stop attracting people from outside our borders.  We also need the ministry of non-stipendiary ministers.  For some reason in this diocese we haven’t been as good at recruiting them as some of the other dioceses in Wales.  We will ordain five non-stipendiary ministers in 2007 and seven more in 2008.  That will help redress the balance.  We need to keep up the number of people who serve in this way.
  3. Mission Action Planning – as I said 95% of parishes have done that but what we now need is to remove the ‘P’ and get on with the Mission Action.  As one of you said to me, we need MA not MAP.  We need action.  We need to be able to grow congregations in traditional parishes and we also need to be able to help people worship in places other than churches before we transfer them to a church building.  We need nurture courses like ALPHA or EMMAUS and my hope is that by next Lent we will have such a course ourselves, perhaps based on what has happened in other dioceses because there is no point in reinventing the wheel.
  4. We need to develop a strategy for deaneries – for regions in other words that is realistic and imaginative and that has vision for the future, not just keeping the show on the road.  We do have a Mission Fund for new initiatives in mission in this diocese.  It has about £100,000 in it.  It is has hardly been used.  You won’t get it for doing some of the traditional things, and you won’t get it for things that you ought to be doing in any case.  But if you can persuade the committee that you are doing something new and worthwhile, then the money is there.  The diocese is there to support.  One or two parishes have employed youth workers or children’s workers and have been helped to do so by this fund.  Every parish has now received a leaflet about his – it is about investing in mission.
  5. We need to give priority to young people and children.  The future of the church does not lie with them.  They are already part of the church and as much a part of it as you and I are.  But the future leadership of the church does depend on them.  It is a fact that there are very few people in our churches who are over fifteen.   This area of work needs to be looked at urgently.  Very few parishes have youth clubs and some parishes have no Sunday Schools or any involvement with children at all.  The Youth Committee works hard in producing e-masses, it organised a splendid service in the International Arena for the diocese.  The youth chaplain and children’s officer are here to offer help and advice.  Some parishes complain they have no youth and then in answer to the question of whether they would like the youth or children’s officer to visit, answer no.  We need to take youth and children’s work far more seriously and we need to nurture the growth of children in the Christian faith not just in church schools but also across the diocese.  It will not do to say, we have a youth chaplain it’s his responsibility.  He is doing his bit.  In October/November there are three sessions on how to help young people worship and the sessions are practical.  On 16 September there is an all day Youth Event at the Rhondda Fach Sports Centre in Tylorstown and on 23 September for the younger children a Fun Day in the Cathedral.
  6. We have lots of lay people involved in lots of courses and doing pastoral work, but I see very little evidence at the present time of lay people being involved in baptism and confirmation preparation and there is no reason at all why they should not be so involved.
  7. Stewardship – all of us need to think very seriously about our giving to God.  The Christian gives out of gratitude to what he or she has received from God.  Christian giving begins after we have paid for what we are getting through the ministry of the church.  Direct planned giving in 2005 in this diocese exceeded £3 million – the highest figure ever recorded.  We need to build on this.  Some of you think that the parish share is too high.  Actually, it only barely pays for the ministry that we are getting, we are still being subsidised by Central Church funds to the tune of over a £1 million a year and this could end in 2013.  The diocese had the lowest percentage rise of any diocese in 2004, 2005, 2006 and in 2007.  But true giving starts after we’ve paid for what we are getting in terms of ministry and service.  Let me remind you that the Church in Wales’ model is 5% of take home pay.  Not enough parishes either use the tax advantages of gift aid.  Some parishes admit to not even preparing a budget.  That is incredible but there are numerous examples of it.  Again some parishes admit to having serious financial problems, but in answer to the question as to whether they would like diocesan advice, answer no.  The parish stewardship and resources adviser is on hand to help.  He is now going to produce two leaflets a year on stewardship.  His first one shows that the average planned weekly giving per person for each deanery is as follows:

    Merthyr Tydfil

    £7.50

    Margam

    £7.25

    Vale of Glamorgan

    £6.80

    Neath 

    £6.63

    Cardiff   

    £6.41

    Llandaff

    £6.15

    Penarth and Barry

    £6.05

    Caerphilly            

    £5.46

    Pontypridd

    £4.94

    Cynon Valley 

    £4.59

    Rhondda

    £4.56

    Bridgend 

    £4.15

                      
    Now Merthyr has an income level well below the national average but tops the deanery-giving league.  The diocese does not have a financial problem – it has a problem about giving and that is a theological problem about belief, not a financial one about cash.  Think about it.

  8. Buildings – well, we have 249 buildings in the diocese.  We need to develop a theology about buildings.  We recognise that people grow old and die and sometimes we need to realise that the same may be true of buildings.  Some of our church buildings are very tired and have outlived their usefulness.  Perhaps some of them built in the last century especially weren’t meant to survive that long.  They were temporary arrangements.  When we have too many buildings to maintain within close proximity to one another, then all our time and energy is spent just somehow or other keeping them afloat and there is no time or energy for mission or ministry.  A few parishes openly admit that in their returns.  Where parishes have bitten the bullet and, in some instances closed a church building, they have breathed a sigh of relief.  They realise in hindsight that they were propping up a building and that it was sapping all their strength and energy and now that they no longer have to do that, they can worship with another congregation in the parish and feel re-energised and revitalised.

So those are the challenges for us as parishes and diocese.  The job of the diocese, as I said, is to help, to enable and to give permission.  From next year onwards there will be three archdeacons all based in parishes and two bishops.  As a staff, we have decided that the three archdeacons and Bishop David will visit at least one parish a month each, in order, in the light of the Visitation Returns and other information to discuss all the matters that I have raised tonight with the parochial church council to map the way forward.  Each will then return the following day to do a personal review with the incumbent in the light of the discussions that have taken place the previous evening.  Given the fact that I see all the assistant clergy and diocesan officers, I am going to start off probably only visiting the parishes of the archdeacons and the Cathedral parish. In that way, I think, we will have a more focused ministry and we should cover the whole diocese and review the work of all parishes and the clergy by so doing in two years.  So the kind of questions that we will be asking are:

  • What is your vision?
  • What gifts are you looking for to implement it?
  • How are you growing?

In order to make that possible and to share the workload of the archdeacons more evenly and given the fact that each archdeacon also has a parish, we will transfer the Deanery of Caerphilly from the Archdeaconry of Llandaff to the Archdeaconry of Morgannwg and the Vale of Glamorgan from Llandaff to Margam.  That will then give roughly the same number of parishes and clergy to each archdeacon so that they can concentrate on their own patch and allow the bishops to roam more widely.

At the end of the day, you and I are not here to preserve an institution, we are here to try and join God in what He is doing in and for his world.  It is He who calls each one of us; it is He who empowers us.  Good things are happening. I sense that we are a diocese on the move.  We need now under God to keep up the momentum.