GOVERNING BODY OF THE CHURCH IN WALES
Our agenda reveals that the Governing Body is giving serious attention to several matters of vital significance for the life and the future of the Church in Wales; and certainly the gathering of the covenanted churches is as significant as any of them for our future as a church: a church, that is, which makes a particular point of existing to serve the community in which it is set; and that community is the nation of Wales.
And that means we have to take seriously the implications of our disunity, the disunity which mars the Body of Christ in Wales. We were reminded at the Gathering of that disunity in a dramatic presentation: we had hoped to have been able to present that again at this Governing Body, but in English. Unfortunately that has not proved possible: but it made the point forcibly and amusingly how we as churches in Wales share a common but divided past; and why. And it also made the point how those divisions vitiated and enervated and undermined the Christian mission to this nation.
The presence of our ecumenical partners in this as in previous meetings of Governing Body, expresses not just the present separated state of the Christian Bodies in Wales, but also that determination among those bodies as expressed in Cytun and its work, and more particularly among those churches which have signed up to the Covenant, that determination to do together, and to be seen to do together, what we should not be doing separately for the advancement of the kingdom of God; so that mission and service may become effective in and to this nation of Wales. That was why we gathered together last October.
The visible unity of the Body of Christ, which was emphasised in that marvellous presentation and in the reading at Evening Prayer last evening is what the Covenant of 1975 and the Gathering is about; and what that might mean practically.
For example, one of the working parties set up in the run-up to The Gathering, was set up to advocate and support the mission and service of the church as expressed in local ecumenical partnerships. And mission and service permeated our discussion yesterday both in terms of the Harries Report and the work of the Lab; as it does the whole issue of episcopacy which we have discussed this morning.
Now, we may find it difficult that so many weighty items have come together on this agenda. We may feel tempted to set one or more of them aside and focus on whichever is easier or more comfortable.
We must withstand that temptation. And see their coming together as providential. Our agenda may resemble a bus stop where we have been waiting a long time: and then several buses appear at once; and they are all going the same way. And we have to get on board all of them, because the significance of the Gathering and the covenant and the unity which it proclaimed underpins and permeates all that we have been considering.
We were reminded of that yesterday in the feed back from the groups which had been discussing the Harries Report, reminded that there was a need to consider the significance of the ecumenical dimension in whatever future patterns of mission and ministry which the Church in Wales envisages. And we heard Helen Biggin promising that the ecumenical dimension would be borne in mind.
I would want to take it further. The ecumenical dimension is not something to be bolted on; it is more than a dimension, since it gives substance to our Lord’s prayer that they, we, may all be one. The ecumenical imperative carries all the other matters of significance which we are discussing here at this Governing Body.
It is, if I may keep to the transport metaphor, like that marvellous plane the Beluga which carries the Airbus wings to Broughton; the wings cannot fly there by themselves, but all placed in the plane, its wings carry the rest on their journey.
And that journey has been a long one, for those churches in Wales which entered into the covenant in 1975 and reaffirmed that commitment to visible and organic unity in the 2004 Trefecca Declaration. Since then, there have been not only further resolve on the part of the churches within the Covenant to continue on the journey, but to take practical steps in this quinquennium 2010 to 2015 to make that progress towards a Uniting Church in Wales more visible in the present as well as catching a vision for the future, a vision of one faith, one structure, one ministry and one governance, but which would honour and celebrate the different theological emphases and traditions of worship that constitute the greater whole. And those words, taken from the leaflet Covenanting for Mission could and did echo what was said in yesterday’s feedback on the Harries Report.
And in 2012, after much preliminary work on Local Ecumenical Projects, creating a standardised terminology list, looking at structures of church governance, at the episcope of pastoral oversight, at a revision of the 1981 Order of service for Holy Communion, the covenanting churches Gathered together at Aberystwyth,
The work on both the glossary of technical terms and the Eucharist were complete by then and the Eucharist was used for worship which was the climax of the day presided over by the leaders of the churches within the Welsh covenant and at which Dr Olav Tveit, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches preached.
Those who were there last October in the Great Hall of Aberystwyth University, and a substantial number of people, many of us indeed, came together on a wet Saturday in Aberystwyth, and that in itself is remarkable, found it an uplifting and gracious event.
So what happens now? We need to keep up the momentum: indeed the words we heard at yesterday’s feedback session on the Harries Report are equally relevant in this context.
For The Gathering set before us a vision of what the Church in Wales, the Uniting Church Wales could look like in the future. We need to keep and nurture the enthusiasm, the vision and the momentum engendered by the Gathering, and express the ecumenical pilgrimage as a new creative and diverse way of doing and being church, of being the people of God in the Wales of our day of our generation and doing it with imagination and vision.