Report presented to the Deanery Conference on Tuesday , September 17th 2013
A brief resume of how we arrived at where we are on the Ecumenical Scene
Although there are indications in the New Testament and historical evidence thereafter of division amongst Christians in the Early Church and in the following centuries, the Church remained officially united for the first 1000 years of its history. The Schism of 1054 brought about the separation of the Church into an Eastern and Western Church, the first centred on Constantinople and the second in Rome, known as the Latin Church which suffered another great schism at the end of the fourteenth century with the election of rival popes. This schism was later resolved.
The Reformation in sixteenth century Europe was a division of the Church to rival that of 1054. The rise of the nation state meant a different kind of religious reformation in different countries. In England (which by the 1536 Act of Union included Wales) the Anglican Church of England was formed which although part of the Protestant Reformation maintained its threefold ministry of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. It was and remains both Catholic and Reformed. Following the Elizabethan Settlement the Church of England became the Established Church of England and Wales. In Scotland under the leadership of John Knox Presbyterianism had become established and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (The Kirk) remains the established Church there.
The following centuries saw further breakaway from the Church of England. The growth of Puritanism was very evident and many sought a kind of worship beyond the establishment. The Act of Toleration in 1689 gave such permission to Baptists, who rejected Infant Baptism in favour of an adult believer’s Baptism, and Congregationalists who believed in the authority of the local church/congregation as opposed to the central authority of a Bishop. These so called Dissenters were still not permitted to hold political office or enter the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Catholics were deliberately excluded and had to wait until the nineteenth century for their emancipation. The eighteenth century saw the rise of Methodism under the Wesley brothers who never envisaged a breakaway from the C of E, and neither did the equivalent reformers in Wales such as William Williams, Daniel Rowlands and Howell Harries, whose vision was more of a Calvinistic Methodist Church which was a Presbyterian model rather like Scotland.
So, coming into fairly modern times we have a variety of religious traditions in Britain (I have not included Ireland’s story as this would require much more space!). There was the established C of E, Presbyterianism, Methodism, Baptists and Congregationalists as well as the un-emancipated Roman Catholic Church. The nineteenth century so the advent of Pentecostalism and The Salvation Army and the rediscovery of its Catholic heritage through the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. In Wales all this mixture was further complicated by language with denominations having English-speaking and Welsh-speaking parts. Generally the Non Conformists were largely Welsh-speaking and the Cof E in Wales largely English-speaking.
The twentieth century will be seen as a century of ecumenism by historians. A conference in Edinburgh in 1910 began the Ecumenical Movement. The word ecumenical or oecumenical means “of the whole world together” “all-embracing” or “universal” which is also the meaning of “catholic”. The movement sought to bring different traditions closer together and to cooperate in mission. Unfortunately the missionary movements of the 19th century had exported our Christian divisions to the rest of the world. As the century progressed ecumenical bodies were founded: The World Council of Churches, The British Council of Churches and in 1956 the Council of Churches for Wales. In 1990 the Roman Catholic Church came into membership for the first time in this country with the formation of the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, and Cytun in Wales which included now all the main denominations in Wales except the Welsh Baptist Union.
In 1975 five denominations in Wales entered into a Covenant together to work and pray for visible unity. These denominations were:
The Church in Wales
The Presbyterian Church of Wales
The Methodist Church
The United Reformed Church
and a number of Baptist Church, mainly in Cardiff
and Newport belong to the Baptist Union of GB.
The United Reformed Church (URC) had come about by a union between English Presbyterians, Congregationalists and the Church of Christ. Notably the Covenant did not include the Welsh Baptists, the Welsh Congregationalists (Yr Annibynwyr) nor the Roman Catholic Church.
Since 1975 much has been achieved on the journey to a visible unity and there have been several disappointments. In 1981 a Holy Communion/Cymun Bendigaid service was published and a revised modern version was published in 2012 both of which were highly acclaimed. Several Local Ecumenical Partnerships have been set up. Ministry and our understanding of it is key to progress. Only one of the five (Church in Wales) is an Episcopal Church, the other four being non-Episcopal (no bishops!) A way has to found in crossing this barrier. Attempts were made in 1986 and in 1998 to address this issue but did not succeed. All the while our mission to Wales is impeded by our divisions and every denomination has seen a decline in stipendiary ministers and congregations. On the positive side every denomination has re-discovered the role of the laity in ministry, yet many areas, especially rural ones, bemoan the loss of ordained leadership by full time ministers.
The Gathering/Y Cydgynulliad held in Aberystwyth in October 2012 is the latest attempt to bring us nearer to a uniting Church in the nation of Wales. We have until the middle of 2014 to consider its proposals and our responses will come to another Gathering in 2015. It is hoped each parish, deanery and diocese in the Church in Wales will give the matter careful thought and prayer, as will the various structures in our partner Churches.