Presidential Address Governing Body April 2008

This is going to be a bit of a pot-pourri of a Presidential Address since I want to touch on a number of subjects which should be of concern to all Christians in Wales. The first is the ONE WALES document – the legislative agenda produced by the coalition third term Welsh Assembly Government. As the report from the Bench makes clear, the Church in Wales, through the Bishops, has produced a response to that document. We did so because we believe in a God who is the Lord of life and Creator of the universe, who does not restrict His concern to religious matters. In fact, I could make a good case based on the scriptures that the God of Jesus is far less interested in religion than in justice, truth, mercy, wholeness and those who are marginalised. Indeed, in St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry in Nazareth with these words, “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed”. And in all of this, Jesus was following the prophets of Israel who had frequently preached about God’s concern for widows and the fatherless and who was more concerned about justice than sacrifice.

Thus the bishops in their response, tackle issues of nationhood, health, prosperity, education, community, housing, the poor, culture, the environment and governance – all the issues in fact that are crucial to a nation’s wellbeing. And we have done so, as I have said, because the Gospel we proclaim has relevance to every aspect of our lives or else we are not preaching it properly. The fact of the matter is that the Church In Wales is concerned about every aspect of life in Wales and has a worshipping congregation and building in virtually every single community in Wales. As a result of all of this, the Bishops are talking to Cabinet Ministers about a whole range of issues to do with the life of Wales – health, housing and poverty, as well as issues in which the Church In Wales has a direct interest, such as education. And I would like to pay tribute to the Welsh Assembly Government for the willingness of its Ministers to meet, discuss and engage in such discussions. I cannot imagine the First Minister and the Health Minister of any other country ringing up the local Bishop to ask how precisely Government could help in its attitude to both mental health issues and victim support as happened here in Wales after the tragic death of Father Paul Bennett in Aberdare.

Devolved Government brings with it both accessibility and the ability to tackle issues in devolved fields in a way that is relevant and pertinent to Wales. In other words, it gives Welsh solutions to Welsh problems. That is why I personally welcome the setting up of a Convention under the able chairmanship of Sir Emyr Jones Parry to examine whether there is sufficient support in Wales for a Referendum to be held to enable us to have full primary legislative powers by 2011. Most people do not, in fact, realise that the 2006 Government of Wales Act has given Wales those powers – they are written into the Act. All it requires is the consent of the people of Wales after a Referendum and of the Assembly Government. That too was ground breaking legislation. Never before have there been acts of Parliament giving powers for the future but which lie dormant until triggered by a positive yes vote for their implementation and that was largely down to the former Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain.

We, as Bishops, share the ambition to transform Wales into a self confident, prosperous, healthy nation and society which is fair to all.

The role of the Convention is firstly to raise awareness and improve understanding of the current arrangements for devolved Government in Wales, and the provisions of those parts of the Government of Wales Act which would come into play if a Referendum were to be won. Secondly, to facilitate and stimulate a widespread, thorough and participative consultation at all levels of welsh society on the issue of primary law making powers. Thirdly, to prepare an analysis of the views expressed and the evidence presented through the process. Fourthly, assess the level of public support for giving the National Assembly for Wales primary law making powers. Fifthly, report to the Government on its findings, with recommendations relevant to the holding of a Referendum. This ought to be of concern to every member of the Church In Wales and indeed to every Welsh citizen and I hope that we will engage positively with the process.

One of the greatest problems of our world is global warming and climate change. Many governments have realised that this is the major issue of our age. The temptation, when faced with such a huge concern, is for us as individuals or as a church, to shrug our shoulders in despair and think that what we can do is so miniscule that it is not worth the effort. But we need to remember George Eliot’s words about Dorothea, the heroine of her novel “Middlemarch”. “Insignificant people with daily words and acts prepare the lives of many Dorotheas, and the effect of her being on those around her were incalculably diffusive, for the great good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts”.

So we, as individuals and as a church, have a part to play in all of this and the Bench have approved both a statement of principles and a resource pack about sustainability. These are, if you like, challenges to the whole church so that all of us can begin to think carefully about how we can lessen global warming by changing our habits. So starting from the central premise that we are stewards of God’s creation, not its owners, and therefore accountable to Him, we have commended to the Representative Body and so to the whole Church in Wales, the following principles. The church should strive to put this belief into action by:

  1. Seeking to reduce energy use in all our buildings
  2. Be open to renewable energy solutions such as solar power and wind turbines on our property
  3. Encouraging the use of less polluting forms of transport wherever possible, particularly walking and cycling
  4. Developing wildlife conservation schemes in our churchyards
  5. Using Fair Trade environment and animal friendly products wherever possible
  6. Reducing waste by composting and recycling as much of it as possible
  7. Reducing paper usage (and then only recycled paper)
  8. Considering the environmental impact of our meetings and how we can reduce that impact
  9. Disseminate information on good practice and where to obtain advice and help on environmental issues
  10. Promote sustainability through our preaching and teaching and setting a good example

Then arising out of those principles, there are issues which the Provincial Office is addressing, for example:

  1. It has commissioned an Energy Audit of 39 Cathedral Road
  2. It is assessing video conferencing opportunities
  3. It is looking at an office travel plan to promote public transport and car sharing
  4. It is seeking to develop guidelines for energy efficiency in parsonages.

A green guide is being produced for parishes with a checklist of possible actions and a list of sources for further information as well as resources for preaching and teaching.

One church in the Diocese of Llandaff, St Joseph’s Cwmaman, has been fitted with 30 solar panels and a small wind turbine. It was commended in the British Urban Regeneration Awards in 2007 and now sells electricity to the national grid. The Church In Wales has also entered into an agreement with The Carbon Trust to get advice on this issue on cutting down our carbon footprint.

If you look at the economics of climate change, the Stern Review points out that by the end of the century, an additional 150 – 200 million people could be living on less than $2 a day and there would be an additional 165,000 – 250,000 child deaths per year in South East Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. So for the sake of God, the planet and humanity, we must, all of us, take whatever steps we can.

The report entitled “Faith in Wales” shows that faith communities contribute £102 million pounds a year to the welsh economy. Now we are not in existence to sustain the economy, but it is good to know that we are playing our part and the report shows the role faith communities play in the wider communities of which they are a part. The report shows the hours worked by volunteers – 42,000 of them all over Wales, from our churches in the wider community, the services they provide and the part they play by their involvement in cultural activities, the premises they make available and their contributions to our heritage and tourism. What the report does show is that Wales has roughly twice as many worshipping congregations per head of population as the rest of Great Britain. There are over 4,400 places of worship – one for every 670 people. The Church In Wales forms the largest single denomination. 30% of all congregations are Church In Wales congregations. 98% of those who are religious are Christian and 7.2% of the population attend a religious service every week. Faith communities are involved in hospital visiting, working with the young, lunch clubs, coffee bars, marriage preparation, support for the bereaved, alcohol and drug awareness and personal finance issues. Faith communities maintain over 1600 historical buildings, 400 of which are Grade I and 200 are Grade II. Most of those, of course, are Anglican buildings and they bring in 2.5 million tourists every year and admission is free.

So we ought not to beat ourselves up too much. 500 faith communities participate in government regeneration activities or are strongly involved in their local community’s strategy. The ethos exists of encouraging people to serve civil society as individual Christians through their businesses, jobs, families and neighbours.

There is also a good relationship among the faith communities in Wales. Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, set up the Faith Communities Forum in the wake of 9/11 and the leaders of these faith communities meet the leaders of all the political parties at the Assembly twice a year. We have also set up an Interfaith Council in Wales – that is a body independent of government, whose aims are:

  1. To advance public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teaching, tradition and practices of the different faith communities in Wales.
  2. To promote good relationships between persons of different faiths and to be of service to the people of Wales.
  3. To promote awareness of the distinctive features of these faith communities and their common ground.

We have extremely good relationships with people of other faiths. I myself have, until recently, been the Chair of the Christian Jewish Council in Cardiff and there is a very close relationship between the Muslim Council of Wales and Christian Leaders. In all these ways, the faith communities of Wales are contributing to the general wellbeing and health of Wales and by so doing enabling the Government to see that we have a vital contribution to make to the life of our nation.