The Church in Wales is a Province within The Anglican Communion. It became disestablished from the Church of England in 1920.
In 2012 The Church in Wales commissioned a Review of the CiW. It was chaired by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Former Bishop of Oxford, and is generally referred to as The Harries Report. The report made many recommendations, one of them being:
- Replacing parishes with larger “ministry areas”, each containing around 25 parishes, which would mirror the catchment areas of secondary schools, where possible. They would be served by a team of clergy and laypeople.
The report said that small parishes were no longer sustainable, with some priests having to serve as many as 10 parishes, “with all the extra attendance at meetings and administration this involves”.
However, the Church of England has its own report, ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’, which postdates the Harries Report. ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’ rightly notes that amalgamating parishes leads to their decline.
CHANGES IN WALES:
The church I attend is a small rural church within the Diocese of St. Asaph, in N. Wales. The majority of churches in the CiW are rural. We number about 10 for a normal Sunday service.
In 2015, our P.C.C. was abolished and we amalgamated with 14 other churches to become a much larger Mission Area/Super-Parish.
The Mission Area (‘MA’) is led by a Mission Area Leader (‘MAL’), and is supposedly supported by 1 full-time stipendiary Cleric and one part-time non-stipendiary, although this is not often achieved. Each church now has a Church Council, that has none of the decision-making abilities that the P.C.C. used to have.
Each church sends an appointed representative to the quarterly Mission Area Conference. It is this conference that now makes the decisions for the churches that used to be made by the church’s own P.C.C. Often, decisions are made regarding a church by someone who has never visited the particular church and has no understanding of how it operates locally and the people involved. Such is the power of the MA.
Prior to becoming a MA, we had a service every Sunday. We now have one a month, usually taken by a retired Cleric. Perhaps one of the saddest things to come out of MA’s is that clergy no longer have any local knowledge of the individual churches and the many loyal and faithful characters within. Pastoral care is a thing of the past. Recently a lifelong member of our congregation passed away, someone who until failing health prevailed, attended church regularly. In the past, he had served the church well: Sidesman, PCC member, bell ringer, (just the one!) and helped to cut the grass in the churchyard. In his 80’s, he was a farmer who was well known, liked and a respected member of the community, his family having many connections with the church. When it came to his funeral, our Mission Area Leader, had no idea of who he was and had to ask for details. This is a common story throughout the MA.
Another recommendation of the Harries Report was to train lay people to play a greater part in church leadership. This too is not working. Many feel forced into becoming Lay Readers to save their church. We are told that if we do not have a Lay Reader amongst us, then we will not have regular services. The training is sadly lacking that of a fully trained Clergy, and it shows. The congregation often do not attend if a “proper vicar” is not taking the service. This reflects in attendance figures.
In 2015 prior to becoming a MA, churches had far better attendance figures, some seeing an increase in attendance. One church in the MA had 35 regular attendants on a Sunday, last Sunday it had 8. Attendance figures for the past six years in the MA make sad reading. Most church notice boards in the MA no longer have names of a priest, they are largely anonymous.
Everything now revolves around finance. Nothing happens without it being financially evaluated. Finance is the beginning and the end to all matters ecclesiastical. MA meetings are largely taken up with finance. Churches like mine are being squeezed by the Diocese for more and more money. We could afford the upkeep if it was not for the crippling Quotas, (parish share) we have to pay.
Many churches are finding it hard to find people to take up positions such as Wardens or Treasurers. The demands put on them by the MA are onerous and the amount of meetings/training/paperwork ever increasing. People just want to look after their own church, not be part of a super parish.
Now our beautiful, iconic church has been told it is to be made redundant. A neighbouring church told to close. This will leave a large rural area without any pastoral care. Incredibly, the neighbouring church, a Grade 1 Listed building with much history, has been told by the Diocese that, “the needs of a worshipping community are better met by the warm, accessible and flexible Chapel.” The chapel is Welsh Methodist.
In the past, closure would have been the decision of the P.C.C. it would have involved many months of discussion and involved people from the local community. It would have been handled sensitively by the parish vicar. Now it is a dictate from The Bishop’s office. No consultation has taken place. A recent review of the MA and the churches within it, was shambolic in procedure & content. We were informed of the closure by way of an e-mail, sent out by mistake by the Diocesan office, with no apology ever being received. Noone from the Diocese has ever been to talk to us. This would never have happened were we still a parish, and not part of a large anonymous Super Parish.
The few clergies we have to find MA means they are now Administrators, not Ministers and many are taking early retirement because of the onerous amount of paperwork. Retired clergy have a look of despair and are thankful they are no longer involved.
The stories of Super Parish failure are many.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND DIOCESES, LOOK AND LEARN:
Since the Harries Report and implementation of MA’s, the CiW has declined; it is now in crisis.
The Church of England’s green paper GS2222 stated in paragraph 35 that ‘anecdotal evidence’ suggested that the Super-Parish model had not worked well, but that there is an absence of hard data.
The evidence in Wales is easy to find. There is no excuse for the absence of ‘hard data’. The Church of England must look at the evidence from the other side of Offa’s Dyke. Here is just one sad example of a church being auctioned off:
They must visit and speak to the people in Wales, they must study the figures and look at the facts and avoid going down the same disastrous road if they do not wish to kill local community spirit and personal relationships, dry up donations and see church closures and sales which proclaim loud and clear their failure to keep the flame of Christianity alive.