Presidential Address – Governing Body April 2013

I would like, in this Presidential Address, to talk about two issues which concern the life of the Province namely, the recent Review and the issue of same sex marriage. So, not much to discuss really. Let’s start with the Review.

It is possible to get so bogged down or hung up on some of the details of the Provincial Review that there is a danger in dismissing all of it because one disagrees with some of the points it makes. That would be a great pity. I think what the Review document has done is hold up a mirror to us, a Church, and to say “this is what you’ve told us about yourselves, so we are reflecting back to you what you think is amiss in your church and here are some ways in which you might do something about it”. Their solutions in every instance might not be exactly right because there is a great deal of work still to be done on some issues, but what I want to do this afternoon, is not to talk about the details of the Review or indeed the process of the Review but its underlying assumptions, because the Review makes some very basic theological and ecclesiological presuppositions about the church and the people of God and so it might be useful for me, in so far as I am able, to spell them out.

The Review suggests the setting up of ministry areas with a team leader and collaborative working within that team of clergy, some of whom will be paid but most will not, and of lay people, some of whom may also be paid but most of whom will not. This is based on the fundamental assumption that the basic sacrament of the church is not ordination, but baptism, and perhaps a great deal of where we go wrong, as a Church, is in our thinking that ordination rather than baptism is our fundamental sacrament.

When Pope John Paul II was asked what the most important day of his life was, he replied “The day I was baptised”. The Church is, above all, the community of the baptised. At a service of ordination, before the bishop lays hands on anyone, he says that “all baptised people are called to make Jesus Christ known as Saviour and Lord and to be fellow workers with Him in His renewing of the world”. Every member of the Christian community who has been baptised is a disciple of Jesus and has gifts, and therefore, a ministry to offer. And it is from within this family of the baptised that the ordained are called to exercise particular gifts and functions within the Church. Put another way, the Church is all God’s people not just those who are ordained. Martin Luther said that he had been made a priest at his baptism and a minister at his ordination. The Church in Wales Catechism says that “The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.”

Churches with ordained clergy have been tempted to assume that all ministry is vested in an omnicompetent, all-singing, all-dancing professional minister and that the task of ministry belongs to him or her and then when he/she is a bit hard pressed, he or she may delegate some of the tasks to other people but really essentially it is her/her ministry. That is to start in the wrong place. “It takes a community to manifest the grace present in Jesus” says one theologian and if that is so, ministering and the task of ministry is entrusted to the whole Church and, from within that Church, some are called to exercise particular ministries. The State of the Church in Wales’ Report of 1993 sadly says that “the laity still think of themselves as servants, not of God, but of the Vicar, whose job it is to be the Church for them.” I am not convinced much has changed and all of us must shoulder the blame for that. This also shows very clearly that we fail to act on reports we ourselves, have commissioned. I hope this report does not go the same way.

Nor are lay people there to carry out the administrative tasks leaving spiritual tasks, such as baptism, marriage and confirmation preparation, bereavement counselling and sick- visiting and involvement in the community, to the clergy. Rather, these tasks are to be carried out by a team of people, clerical and lay, according to their gifts, on behalf of the church, led by a stipendiary priest. That does not make the job of the leader of the team, less priestly or less involved. If anything, it makes it more so, because he or she will be like the leader of an orchestra, making sure that the whole team is playing its part or as somebody said, “Be like a midwife encouraging people to give birth to the gifts they have been given”. And, in doing all this, we shall be reverting to an ancient pattern. Jesus himself called the twelve to exercise ministry with Him, even though at times, He would have been better off on His own.

So too, St Paul, when he set up churches, entrusted those churches to a group of presbyters, not to one person. The Review Group is challenging us to recover a New Testament view of the whole Church and calling us back to our baptismal obligations so that different ministries and gifts can be acknowledged and authorised. If we took all this to heart, we might also find paradoxically more vocations to ordained ministry because we would be taking everyone’s gifts seriously.

And for all this to succeed, we need training, because if you have been taught and trained to work on your own, it is difficult then to work in partnership with others, but that is what true leadership is. So the future is about a collaborative team of clergy and laity, in a ministry area with an experienced team leader, being trained together, so that the Gospel is proclaimed and lived. Within such a team, there may be some who will be gifted and trained in a ministry to young people, some may exercise a ministry to young adults, some to schools and some who have the gift of evangelism to grow the church through their ability to explain the Gospel in new ways. None of that means that we sweep everything we have at present away, but it does mean using all the resources that we have been given, and the gifts that all of us have, more creatively and imaginatively. It means laity and clergy together, having a shared vision of the task of the Church in God’s mission to the world.

These ministry areas, as the website of the Diocese of Monmouth puts it “are still rooted in local communities with local leadership and so are incarnational. They are apostolic in having leaders with responsibility for teaching, fostering vocation and empowering others for ministry; missional in seeking new opportunities for ministry and evangelism and visionary in that they require a new way of responding to God’s call to extend His kingdom”.

In his letters, Paul says that he received a commission to preach the Gospel that Jesus might be revealed in him. He talks about being crucified with Christ and being raised with Christ. “I live no longer but Christ lives in me”. In other words, he reveals Jesus, not just through his preaching but through the way he lives his life.

And that is what all of us who are disciples of Jesus are meant to be and to do. Our manner of life and our relationships should be shaped by the Gospel, in terms of love, fellowship, compassion and a concern for others. Being in Christ means living out this pattern of the Gospel and when that is evident, others will see its authenticity and be drawn into the life of faith. That is how new Christians are made.

I now turn to the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill. You will find more detail in Annex 4 of the Standing Committee Report. As you know, the Church in Wales was dis-established in 1920. However, the 1919 Act retained the Church’s common law duty to marry. From that perspective, the Church in Wales is in the same position as the Church of England. We have a duty to marry parishioners regardless of their religious affinity.

Since marriage is not a devolved issue, any change in the law is a matter for the Parliament at Westminster. This is why Maria Miller, the Culture and Equalities Minister, who happens to come from Bridgend, made a statement in the House of Commons on 11th December last year about same sex marriage, when she said that the Government intended introducing legislation making it illegal for Anglican churches in both England and Wales to marry same sex couples. Those provisions were meant to recognise and protect the unique, and established, nature of those churches as far as marriage is concerned, since the law obliges the Church to conduct marriages. If the State then changes the definition of marriage as we know it, the Anglican Church in England and Wales would be under an obligation to marry same sex couples unless, of course, it were prohibited by law from so doing. I wrote to her to express concern about both the lack of consultation and the seeming lack of understanding of the unique legal position of the Church in Wales.

True, with the proposed Act, unless there was some kind of provision in it, clergy as registrars, could be sued for discrimination if they refused to marry same sex couples. Simply making it illegal for the Church in Wales to do so, did not, to my mind, set the right tone. Moreover, whereas the Church of England can, through measures passed in Synod, subject to Parliamentary approval, rescind that legal prohibition if it wished, the Church in Wales has no such provision and could only do so by an Act of Parliament, which would be an enormously difficult thing to achieve, even if it were granted parliamentary time. It might also be extremely expensive.

To sum up, what we sought from the Government, whose officials came to Cardiff a couple of times, was protection for clergy in not having to conduct same sex marriages, and a mechanism whereby the Church in Wales could conduct same sex marriages if, in the future, it decided to do so, without having to rescind an Act of Parliament prohibiting it from doing so. Now, the Church in Wales’ present doctrine of marriage is that it is a union of one man, and one woman, that is both permanent and life-long. And, I made it clear to the Minister, that the Church in Wales, at the present time, would not, I didn’t think, want to change that position. However, if it did want to, that ought to be a matter for the Church to decide, without recourse to repealing legislation. To be fair, the Government and its officials, after the initial debacle, have worked hard with the Church in Wales to try and understand our position.

The Bill, as it now stands, says that the duty of clergy in the Church in Wales to solemnise marriages, would not be extended to marriages of same sex couples, and contains a clause introducing a procedure specific to the Church in Wales, whereby if the Governing Body resolved in future to allow the marriage of same sex couples in its churches, the Lord Chancellor could by order in Parliament, make that possible. That gives us both protection and allows us to make up our own minds on the issue in the future.

As you can imagine, all of that has taken up a lot of time and energy and representatives of the Church in Wales have appeared before a House of Commons Committee looking into this Bill, and in front of the Constitutional Legislative Affairs Committee of the Welsh Assembly.

The trouble is that the same sex couples legislation did not appear in the Coalition’s parties’ manifestos, was not included in the last Queen’s Speech and has no mandate from the Government’s own previous consultation exercise which had to do with Civil Partnerships. The legislation was also prepared in great haste and therefore, failed in particular, to understand the Church in Wales’ position. Rushed legislation is seldom good legislation.

It also raises a number of other issues.

  1. This legislation could still be challenged in the European Courts of Human Rights at Strasbourg.
  2. We, as a Church, need to have a discussion as to whether we want to continue having this special status in law as far as marriage is concerned. If marriage were ever to become a devolved issue, I cannot see a devolved Welsh Government allowing a disestablished Church to hang on to this vestige of Establishment. In any case, we ourselves might want to change the present arrangements. If the 1919 Act was rescinded so that the Church in Wales was not obliged by law to marry any parishioner, it would still be possible to license all our clergy to be registrars of marriages and then the rules about residency, and qualified connections, would be a matter for the Church in Wales and not the State. That, of course, is what happens in other churches in Wales at the present time.
  3. It also raises the issue of both same sex marriage and same sex partnerships. There has been a growth in understanding of same sex relationships in wider society in recent years and a more comprehensive understanding of human sexuality in general. Within the Church in Wales, as the bishops have pointed out, there are a variety of views about the ethics of same sex relationships. There is a new appreciation of the value of any faithful committed life-long relationship. The new Archbishop of Canterbury observed recently that “It would be completely absurd to suggest that the love expressed in gay relationships was less than the love that there is between straight couples”. The bishops have, therefore, asked the Doctrinal Commission to examine the whole issue of same sex relationships, and once it has produced its report, we will need to have a general discussion, perhaps in groups in the first instance, in this Governing Body to map out the way ahead for us as a Church.

Professor Thomas Watkin has, mischievously, pointed out that the Church in Wales is already familiar with the concept of same sex marriage if one wants to be married in the Welsh language in the Church in Wales. The opening words of the Marriage Service is ‘Saif y ddeuddyn sydd i’w priodi o flaen yr offeiriad – and ‘ddeuddyn’ is a comprehensive word – it could be two people, or indeed, two men! – since the literal translation is two men.