The Church in Wales has today issued a report offering a "radical vision" for its future as it approaches the centenary of its disestablishment in 2020.
The press report is here. The full report is here. The headlines picked out in the press report are:
• Parishes replaced by much larger ‘ministry areas’ which would mirror the catchment areas of secondary schools, where possible, and be served by a team of clergy and lay people;
• Creative use of church buildings to enable them to be used by the whole community;
• Training lay people to play a greater part in church leadership;
• Investing more in ministry for young people;
• Developing new forms of worship to reach out to those unfamiliar with church services;
• Encouraging financial giving to the church through tithing.
Other recommendations I've seen picked up on include selling off vicarages so that clergy can buy or rent their own homes, continuing the drive to emphasise Welsh language services and promoting ecumenism. The BBC have an interesting piece on the report, and a reaction item in which my successor at St Catherine's comments, as does Stewart Franklin, erstwhile warden there & good friend who always supported me in many, many ways. I see they've added a comment from Mark Broadway too! He'll be delighted.
There are things to welcome and things to question, as with any report. I'm going to be a positive voice. It's important to be a positive voice. For the church to move forwards, we have to grab opportunities and use them. It doesn't matter if we think they are ideal. We take what comes and make the most of what we have. Otherwise, we simply corrode and destroy, and I have a suspicion that this isn't ideal Gospel life.
It is simply common sense that the future of the church lies in mixed ministry models.
The age of one-size-fits all parochial ministry has gone. It was probably never perfect. It was probably the best thing. For a very long time. What matters is that the concept of the church for the community remains.
'The community' is not the concept it was, and that's a problem. I am interested that the review, on the surface, without having yet had time to go through it in detail, links the future of the church to school catchment areas. Undoubtedly there is no future without youth, and that recognition is powerful and well made. Communities are built around schools. This is a powerful identifier. It serves a very useful purpose.
(Is it the best identifier? In church growth terms, more churches gain more whole families - and therefore youth - by focussing on men than on children. Just a comment.)
If I look back at my time in Pontypridd, we tried at one time to see what this kind of 'ministry area' idea might be. It might involve fewer buildings. A fine concept - but people need to be nurtured on that journey so that it's not just about losing a building and being made to "go to church in someone else's church" but also about gaining a future and a new community. That's the stuff of real challenge. Real challenge needs real vision, and real vision needs real leaders.
Question: is the Church in Wales training real leaders? You can't move forward without them.
Because in Pontypridd, we looked at what might be...and stepped back. We looked at something very like the recommendations I am reading, and didn't do it. And if I am honest, and I may get some stick for this, it was because there was a leadership failure. Clergy wanted the archdeacon & the bishop to lead - ie to take the flack. The archdeacon & the bishop wanted clergy to do that job. Quite rightly, in my opinion. The people just wanted to know what was going on, and in the meantime, dug their heels in.
I fear that this may happen across Wales...
Not because people are weak, but because change is tricky. Grand ideas need more than a vote at Governing Body. They need to be owned. Understood. To be prayed through and to be believed in. And the process of loss for 'what was' is deep; but it is acceptable if the leaders (and that's parish clergy - they are the on the ground leaders, they have to do this) can take their flocks through the journey safely to the new place.
This happens, it seems to me, when everyone has bought into two things:
1. The Church we belong to is God's; he loves us, and what we do matters because he loves us. So we are safe to give our all.
2. We will trust each other on this journey. Come what may.
If we believe that the Church is God's, and sacrifice is OK because we are giving to God our time and energy and lives - we will achieve far more than we thought possible. The Church will change. We will change. Amazing things will happen, and it will be different from what we knew in the past - but life will come. Resurrection occurs in the strangest places, normally amongst the tombs.
And love will break out. Not distrust, 'protecting my patch at any cost'. I have to let go of my patch. I have to love you. You who aren't as holy as me. I have to trust that you are a Christian too. And that we belong to one another. It's this generosity that changes the world.
Plans & reviews are frameworks. Attitudes of the heart make frameworks live. Without them, the best plans will fail.
Is this the best plan?
Not sure. But it has great ideas. And for sure, the Church in Wales should grab the time and be of good cheer. There's lots here to like. But liking isn't enough.
This is a time for the Church to astound the world and be fundamentally Christian. To believe God loves us. To love one another. Then even a half-crazy plan will stunningly succeed. And this, to me, seems better than half-crazy. A little pessimistic, but not crazy.
For Christ is for us; who can be against us?