The governing body of the Church in Wales met over the weekend to begin considering a topic that will be familiar to Episcopalians: restructuring. The Welsh seem to be approaching restructuring in a more comprehensive way than we Episcopalians have discussed doing to date.
They are talking about top to bottom change at almost every level of the church. We have focused our attention primarily–one might almost say exclusively–on administration and governance without asking how many parishes we need, how many dioceses we need and what kind of training we need to provide to the people who lead these parishes and dioceses. These kinds of issues aren’t easy to legislate in a polity like ours, but it is worth studying the Welsh example to see what we can learn from it.
Here is an excerpt from Archbishop Barry Morgan’s presidential address (make sure to read the song he ends his speech with :
So the essential question is not do we need a structure but does this structure express and embody God’s spirit? The straight answer to that, the reviewers have said is, that it does not, and to be honest no structure ever will fully embody it because we are fallible human beings who always fall short of what God requires of us. The purpose of a structure or an institution or church, is to express and embody God’s redeeming love. In other words, the church exists in order to help God bring in His kingdom, not as an end in itself and if it is not doing that as effectively as it might, then there is something amiss.
And it is precisely that insight which lies at the heart of the Provincial Review and therefore all its recommendations, when it says “Institutions are built to carry the gospel through time to succeeding generations. Yet to do so, they need to change and adapt to the circumstances of each age. The Church in Wales continues to have the structure and organisation appropriate to an established church of 100 years ago but which is stretched beyond what it can or should properly bear now”. Our church needs to express in as effective a way as it can, God’s care and love for His world.
And the only way in which the church can do that, says one theologian, is for us, as individuals and as a church, to meditate on the words of Jesus. I quote, “Only through familiarity and association with the gospels, do we begin to learn to live like Jesus. Only in that way will we be inspired by His love for the world, build up enthusiasm for His project of the kingdom of God and be infused by His spirit within us because in the end, people change from within. It is only what flows through our hearts that changes our lives and frequently it is not the vital sap of Jesus that passes through our hearts as individuals or as a church. The life of the church would be transformed if believers, priests, bishops and educators, would make the gospels their bedside book”. The gospel demands change, conversion, transformation.
The Church in Wales Review, July 2012 is well worth a read.