Image via WikipediaThe report about ecumenism in Wales, is part of the Ecumenical Report to Methodist Conference 2011. It is rather long but raises a number of interesting points, which may have applications elsewhere. The response of Y Cyngor to the Commission of Covenanted Churches is particularly interesting in light of the proposals elsewhere in the ecumenical report about shared ministry.
There is one resolution specific to the Wales report:
The Conference adopts the recommendation of Y Cyngor concerning the Commission of Covenanted Churches in Wales and directs that on behalf of the Conference the Methodist Church in Wales continue to support the work of the Commission on those terms for a further period of five years from 2011.
The Commission of Covenanted Churches in Wales
The Covenant was established in 1975 with the goal of establishing ‘visible unity’ between the Church in Wales, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and those Baptist Churches willing to accept the Covenant. The Commission was established in 1976 to expedite the achievement of the Covenant’s aim.
The Trefeca Declaration of 2005 reaffirmed the member churches’ commitment to the Covenant and it was agreed to fund the Commission for a period of six years until 2011. The Commission has now asked that member churches renew their commitment to support its work for a further five years.
The Commission has provisionally adopted the following post-2011 agenda:
- to draw up a document jointly to be agreed by all five member denominations stating clearly what mode of governance would be acceptable to them all;
- to draw up a document jointly to be agreed by all five member denominations stating clearly what model of pastoral oversight or episcope would be acceptable to them all;
- to work towards a Church of Wales that shares one faith, one structure, one ministry and one governance but that honours and celebrates different theological emphases and worship traditions;
- to arrange a triennial delegated Assembly of Covenanted Churches in Wales, beginning in 2012, to worship together, consider reports from the Commission and matters brought by member churches, and to report back to member churches;
- to set up Advocates consisting of at least one senior leader of each member denomination with the full authority of their denomination to identify areas where a Local Ecumenical Partnership might be established and to engage in conversations with congregations in those areas to encourage the setting up of such a partnership;
- to consider whether there are specific communities which could act as experimental models for ecumenical ministerial deployment;
- to revise the Commission’s Eucharistic rite, to provide a shared confirmation rite for use within Local Ecumenical Partnerships and to consider shared ordination services, where possible;
- to explore how advocacy of the Covenant might be taken forward.
Further to the Commission’s request in April 2010 that member churches renew their commitment to support its work for a further five years, Y Cyngor [the leadership and co-ordinating team for Yr Eglwys Fethodistaidd yng Nghymru/The Methodist Church in Wales], having consulted with the Wales Synod and Synod Cymru, is pleased to recommend that the Methodist Church in Wales continue to support the work of the Commission for a further period of five years from 2011, with this to be reviewed again in 2016.
However, the Commission’s request was accompanied by an eight point programme of work to be undertaken over the next five years, and to this Y Cyngor wished to make some suggestions of its own. When in December 2009, the Commission met with Church leaders to ask whether they were still committed to the Covenant, the response on behalf of the Methodist Church in Wales was that:
- we remained committed to the Trefeca Declaration but recognised that “more work needs to be done in terms of what that visible unity means and how we understand it to accord with what Christ wills for our time and place”;
- we had been “disappointed by the failure of recent proposals from the Commission” and so “do not consider that the time is right for further structural schemes to be explored”;
- we considered that “what is most needed at this time are two things; first a deepening of the ecumenical relationships which already exist… and second a further exploration of what is possible under existing agreements… before any new schemes are introduced”.
Given the connexional nature of the Methodist Church, Y Cyngor submits to the Conference for confirmation of its recommendation that the Methodist Church in Wales continue to support the work of the Commission for a further period of five years from 2011, with this to be reviewed again in 2016. A resolution to that effect can be found below.
Other ecumenical engagement
Synod Cymru exercises the vast majority of its ministry in Welsh. Chapel culture is very strong within the Welsh speaking communities of Wales and so it is more natural for Welsh speaking Methodist congregations to form partnerships with other local Welsh speaking congregations. Such local ecumenical partnerships (which may or may not be formal arrangements) are most common with the Presbyterian Church of Wales and with chapels belonging to the Union of Welsh Independent Churches (UWI). [The latter is an informal grouping and chapels which are members of the Union of Welsh Independent Churches retain their autonomy – the Union having no oversight or authority over them.] Amongst these partnerships are the Powys Area which is a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) involving ten Methodist churches, and Llanrhaeadr is an LEP involving nine Methodist Churches: both areas have Area Leaders who are ministers of other Churches who have been recognised and regarded as admitted into Full Connexion by the Conference.
So far as Wales Synod is concerned, there are ecumenical partnerships in 12 Circuits. The main partners are the United Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, Baptist churches and churches belonging to the Union of Welsh Independent Churches. There is one circuit partnership involving the Church in Wales. However the Church in Wales is involved with the Wales Synod in a significant number of partnerships in Higher Education, Industrial and Workplace, Prison and other Chaplaincies, often in conjunction with other Churches. The Wales Synod is also a partner of the Church in Wales in St Michael’s College, Llandaff, which involves ministerial, lay and Mission Shaped Ministry training.
Challenges and difficulties facing ecumenical co-operation
Strategic deployment of ministry. The difficulty is that the Churches all use different processes and timing patterns in deploying ministry which can lead to frustration between partners, particularly when there is pressure to reduce staff levels, and where there is a different approach to the length and timing of interregnums. From a Methodist perspective this has been a particular concern in United Areas where we share ministry with the URC and a significant factor in the demise of the Pembrokeshire United Area.
More limited access to funding to support strategic deployment. The restructuring of the Connexional Team has led to a reassessment of what are District and what are connexional priorities and what grant resources are available to support them. This has resulted in Districts (in this case the Wales and Cymru Synods) receiving more resources in terms of officers and funds in some areas, whilst having to fund what previously were held to be connexional priorities in others, with a consequent reduction in the total financial resources available for those latter areas (eg it is now the Wales Synod supporting the HE chaplaincy at Glamorgan and not the Connexion).
Changing assessment of key strategic issues. Faced with a reduced level of funding, the Methodist Church in Wales has to make difficult decisions as to where it can continue to support ecumenical ministry schemes. In some cases this means that given changed circumstances, it can no longer afford to provide resources for some areas of work in the way it once did.
Different language/cultural settings require different partners. The language and cultural geography of Wales means that Methodism may look to different partners in different places. For example, the Wales Synod may look more naturally to the Church in Wales or the URC, whilst Synod Cymru may look to the PCW or UWI as partners. However, in responding to issues across Wales, we need to remain coherent as a denomination.
Potential areas of new ecumenical work
The key is to find common areas of mission priority. These may include:
- areas where significant new housing development is planned;
- areas where chaplaincy work is developing;
- sharing in new approaches to training for ministry for both lay and ordained [eg Mission Shaped Ministry programmes (with the Church in Wales and the United Reformed Church) or cooperating where existing areas of training are under review to provide ecumenical training schemes in future (eg Reader/ Local Preacher training)];
- sharing in other ecumenical mission projects [eg ‘Back to Church Sunday’ or ‘Street Pastors’].