Llandaff Diocesan Conference 2015
This afternoon, after this conference ends, I shall go to Brecon Cathedral to represent the Church in Wales at a service organised by Christian Aid to give thanks for its 70 year existence. Archbishop Rowan, the UK Chair, is the preacher. Some of you will know that the National Eisteddfod asked Christian Aid to be responsible for its opening act of worship which, as usual, was televised and I preached at that service.
People sometimes forget that Christian Aid was set up by the Christian churches in this country. In May 1945, at the end of the Second World War, the leaders of all the main churches in these islands asked Christians to mark the Sunday after VE Day by donating what they could to help reconstruct Europe by assisting refugees and those displaced by war. More than £3m in today’s money was raised that weekend and it was used to provide food and medical supplies for refugees and resources for schools. That was the beginning of the charity Christian Aid, although it was called Christian Reconstruction in Europe at first.
What was remarkable about the charity was that it was born out of a determination among church leaders of all denominations to build a better future for the next generation. They shared a vision of a world governed by peace, equality and justice and they worked to root out poverty, as well as change structures and systems that favour the rich and powerful over the poor and marginalised. Their purpose was not to evangelise but simply to offer basic humanitarian help to those in need, no matter what their faith. In the words of its present Chief Executive, “The love of Jesus in action and prayer undergirds all Christian Aid’s work”.
And our churches did this because they believed that this was an intrinsic part of what it meant to believe in God and be disciples of Jesus. It was giving people the same experience God gave to the people of Israel so many years before – a chance to live lives of fulfilment, free from poverty. Christian Aid little realised that seventy years on, its work on behalf of the poor, is more urgent and more needed now than it ever has been.
There are a billion people in our world who live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than a dollar a day. Our world faces a refugee crisis such as it has never seen before as millions of people globally are forced to flee their homes because of violence, conflict and disaster. Most remain displaced within their own countries, but millions of others have to cross borders to reach safety, the majority even then remaining in the developing world, hosted by some of the poorest countries in the world.
Christian Aid supports those affected by war and violence in numerous countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Columbia, providing practical assistance through local organisations embedded in their communities. In Europe, Christian Aid works with partners in the ACT Alliance to support practical and political action to help those fleeing and address the longer term issues. The ACT Alliance is a coalition of 145 churches, working together across 140 countries to create positive and sustainable change to the lives of the poor and marginalised, regardless of faith, sex, race or politics.
As part of the Alliance, Christian Aid is calling on people:
• To be hospitable to the stranger and to open worship sanctuaries and spaces to engage and dialogue on migrant issues.
• To continue to seek and listen to the voices of migrants, asylum seekers, stateless people and refugees in attempts to make appropriate responses.
• To continue to seek to understand the plight of those in distress; and to pray for them and with them.
• To continue to provide support to migrants and refugees and stateless people at community level through access to shelter, information and services.
• For churches and faith based organisations and civil society organisations in countries of origin, transit, and destination to dialogue, and where possible, share experiences to enlighten each other’s responses.
• To influence nation states to accede to international human rights instruments that protect the human rights of migrants, refugees and their families, and for states who are already signatories to effectively live up to their related obligations for assistance and protection.
The trouble is some parts of the press have focussed on growing numbers rather than the conflict, injustice and oppression from which many are escaping. Their attitude has been far from sympathetic and at times been derogatory and de-humanising. They do not realise that the Bible has two thousand verses which speak directly about poverty and that the constant refrain of the Old Testament is about taking care of the sojourner – the refugee – because the people of Israel were once sojourners when they fled from Egypt. And the prophets of Israel spoke out constantly against injustice and the oppression of the poor.
According to St Luke, when Jesus began His public ministry at Nazareth, He said, quoting Isaiah that He had come
“to preach good news to the poor
release to the prisoners
recovery of sight to the blind
to liberate the oppressed
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s
That does not seem to me to be the ministry of someone who has nothing to say about the issues of His day. In fact, it is revolutionary stuff because He is advocating that the Jubilee should be observed. The year of Jubilee was meant to be celebrated every 50 years when slaves were meant to be released, debts forgiven and everyone in society began life again on a level playing field financially. The poor should not remain poor forever.
So that we can be practical, you will know that the bishops of the Church in Wales have issued a statement about the refugee crisis and the Governing Body endorsed it last week. I am circulating that statement in the hope that you too will endorse it.
The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon chairs Christian Aid Wales. His wife, Jo, is today cycling the length of Wales to raise money for Christian Aid. Since it is its 70th anniversary, she is asking every parish in Wales whether it is willing to give just £70 to Christian Aid. I will match fund that from the Mission & General Fund if you let me know that you have done so, so for every £70 that comes from any parish in the diocese of Llandaff, £70 will come from the Mission & General Fund.
I also know that various parishes are galvanising themselves to try and do something practical to help. The issues of refugees and poverty are our problems for we share a common humanity with people of all races and cultures for we are all made in the image of God.
We cannot of course compare what is happening in Wales to the terrible atrocities, poverty and refugee crisis faced by many countries. Yet we cannot ignore the fact either that according to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation young people and working families in Wales are at greater risk of poverty than they were 10 years ago. 25% of the population of Wales lives in poverty because of low pay and unemployment. People are classed as being in poverty if their household earns or receives less than 60% of the national average income of £450 a week, adjusted for family size that is £14,000 a year to live on.
Add to all this a cut in tax credits for many families, the bedroom tax and benefit cuts and the financial burdens for those who cannot survive on what they get or earn will only increase.
It is iniquitous that the government forces social tenants to pay money they do not have or downsize to properties that do not exist. People suffering with mental health issues are getting their welfare benefits sanctioned at a much faster rate in Wales than in Britain as a whole. All that has to happen is for you to turn up 5 minutes late for whatever reason to claim benefit (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance) and you lose the benefit for weeks on end until you appeal the decision. It does not even have to be your fault – 92,500 were down to bureaucratic error. The effect on families can be devastating – they have no money to live on for that period.
Let me then move to Church in Wales issues to do with our internal organisation and governance. I am, at the moment, embarking on deanery visitations – I have been to 3 with 8 to go. The aim is to see what is happening and to try and affirm the work of the parishes and clergy.
One of the questions I am asking is what ministry areas can be formed in this deanery? I take the view that although I, as bishop, can tell you that ministry areas are not optional and the GB has endorsed that principle and urged dioceses to get on with the matter, the form they take has to depend a great deal on local input and knowledge. That means different answers in different places and a certain untidiness in structures but that is because each part of the diocese is different from other parts. There is no one size fits all. We, of course, have ministry areas already, though we may not call them that.
There are Rectorial parishes which reflect the concept of what a ministry area is, that is a number of clerics and lay people working together and pooling their talents for the good of the mission of the church in that particular area – an end if you like to a lone ranger approach to ministry.
So Cowbridge will add 2 more small parishes to the benefice; Eglwysilan now forms part of the new Rectorial parish ministry area of Caerphilly; 4 separate parishes will soon form one parish in the centre of Pontypridd. The two parishes in Penarth will work together eventually to form a new ministry area. The 3 parishes in Barry are collaborating closely in all kinds of ways. Rhondda has zoned itself into 4 ministry areas and the whole deanery of Neath has decided it wants to be a ministry area in its own right and the Church Army is setting up a mission centre to make that possible. Pontlottyn in this diocese and Rhymney in the diocese of Monmouth will form a ministry area.
So things are on the move and what has been fantastic about all this is how the parishes concerned have got excited about the prospect, embraced the vision and seen for themselves the advantages that accrue. That is much better than a centrally imposed plan that people do not own. I am very grateful to you all for getting on with the task. And the aim is that we might better serve our communities, for we are here to worship to God and to minister to the wider society of which we are a part.
Let me now say something about our Diocesan Conference in May and the GB meeting last week. In both this conference and the GB, although over 50% of the members of the two bodies believe that the church ought to offer the possibility of marriage to same sex couples, that is nowhere near the two-thirds majority in all 3 houses needed to change our doctrine of marriage. Although in the end, where we go from here is a matter for the Bench as a whole, any Bill would be bound to fail at this stage. In any case we do not have 4 bishops to back it. That is no consolation to faithful monogamous people in same sex civil partnerships or marriages, and I really do not know how we officially affirm such relationships within our churches, nor am I unmindful of the many who cannot accept the State’s new definition of marriage. I ask you to pray for the Bench as we ponder and pray on this.
In my presidential address to the GB, I raised the issue of an archiepiscopal see – yes I know it is a difficult subject but it will not go away. I will not be affected but I am concerned for whoever succeeds me, as have four previous archbishops been concerned.
At a Diocesan Conference some years ago you said you believed the Archbishop should be located in Cardiff but you were not in favour of having that person also as Diocesan Bishop of Llandaff with an assistant to whom most of the work would be delegated. I have put forward a different model to that one and have tried to deal in depth with the issue. I won’t repeat it here for it is on the website. All I ask is that when the Provincial Standing Committee asks us whether we want to look again at this matter, our own Standing Committee will be open to that request. Let me be clear what I am asking – open to having a provincial group to again look at the issue without in any way tying their hands to any particular model.
Bishop of Llandaff High School
Pupils from the Bishop of Llandaff High School gave a lively presentation on how they came up with their school mission statement.
Assistant head the Revd Gareth Rayner-Williams was joined by year pupils Megan O’Brian (year 13) and David Abadir (year 11) for the presentation.
Mr Rayner –Williams first outlined the theology behind the mission statement whilst Megan and David spoke of how they developed this into the school’s final mission statement which in its shortest form is Love, Acceptance, Responsibility and Forgiveness or LARF.
“Love is the main message from Jesus; Acceptance is what we want from each other, Responsibility is important for us both within school and to take outside of school and Forgiveness is for when we make mistakes,” explained David.
NSM (Local) – Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, David Wilbourne
The term NSM (Local) could be replaced with Hefted Ministry – says Bishop David.
The Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, David Wilbourne said that the word hefted was used in the North of England for sheep which had a deep knowledge of the locality where they grazed.
“If you can have hefted sheep then you can have hefted shepherds.
“NSM (local) is a bit of a mouthful. I would like to replace it with Hefted Ministry, because that is what it is. A call which harnesses deeply local knowledge, honed over decades…..A call affirmed by the local community.
“How you discern and select and train are big questions. We already include the local in discerning and selecting for any ministry, but with Hefted Ministry the local affirmation will necessarily loom more.”
He said that packs had already been sent out to clergy with the basic mechanics of discernment and selection and as it was being rolled out it was evolving and being progressed.
“With the other five dioceses in Wales introducing Local Ordained Ministry, we came up with a rationale which looked more at NSM(local) being hefted, having a different emphasis from and complementing other ministries, rather than contradicting them.”
New Provisional Training Scheme – Canon Dr Andrew Todd, Director, Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies
Canon Dr Andrew Todd, director of the Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies, gave a presentation on the St Padarn’s Institute, which will be launched on July 1, 2016.
He said the aim of the St Padarn’s Institute was to deliver theological education and training that would resource discipleship, vocational and ministry development as part of the Church’s vision and strategy for mission.
“St Padarn’s will offer flexible learning that serves the developing vision of the church,” said Canon Todd.
Stands and Speakers
Christian Aid, The Covenanted Churches in Wales and Churches Together Bookshop all had stands at the Diocesan Conference.
The Revd Dr Ian Morris spoke to members on the Covenanting Churches in Wales saying, “So much has changed in the world since 1975 when the Covenant was signed but it has stood the test of time. All of our churches are now facing the same challenges so let us plan to work creatively together for our communities.
“The things that we can do together far outweigh the things that we can’t. Let’s move forward,” said Dr Morris, district ecumenical officer of Synod Cymru.
“Please give by continuing to support Christian Aid’s Emergency Refugee Crisis Appeal, act by lobbying MPs for the UK government to take its fair share of refugees and pray for Christian Aid’s partners across Europe and the Middle East as they seek to provide emergency relief and comfort to those fleeing war and persecution,” said Mari.
Hello and Goodbye
It was hello to three new officers and goodbye to an Archdeacon who has served more than 40 years as a priest in the Diocese.
Mrs Helen May the new Parish Resources Officer, Mrs Julie Davies the new Lay Training Officer and Mr Mark Brampton who has taken up the new diocesan post of Ministry Area Development Officer were all introduced to members by the Archbishop.
“I am delighted to welcome our three new officers to the Diocese,” said the Archbishop, who later paid tribute to the Venerable Philip Morris, Archdeacon of Margam, who is due to retire on November 1.
“I greatly value his ministry as he has a mind for detail that I do not have and can always be relied on to tell me what exactly was said when I have forgotten!
“He has served as a parish priest and also taken on a number of provincial and diocesan roles. He has edited Highlights, he chairs the International Group and has responsibility for the Jubilee Fund, which funds the mobile dental clinic in Gaza and he chairs the Churches Tourism Network Wales.
“In fact we are probably going to have to appoint about eight people to take over the jobs that he has been doing – I rely a great deal on Philip and I am going to miss him and the diocese is going to miss him.”