At a conference organized by Credo Cymru, the body representing traditionalist beliefs in the Church in Wales, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has spoken about living with diversity over women’s ordination. ‘Key to my experience of living the English diversity in a healthy way’ she said, ‘has been a commitment to intentional relationship and mutual flourishing, and a willingness to live with hopeful imagination.’
The conference, ‘That Nothing Be Lost: A Conference to Preserve the Breadth of Welsh Anglicanism’, was held in Cardiff on 21-22 September and attended by the Archbishop of Wales. It was characterized by diversity: the 34 participants (27 from Wales, 7 from England) included women ordained to all three orders, bishops and priests representing a range of views on women’s ordination, and lay members (predominantly female) of Credo Cymru.
The conversations were characterized by openness, honesty and listening, and a relaxed atmosphere. Both ordained women and traditionalists spoke of a new feeling of affirmation from those with whom they disagreed.
In opening presentations, the Ven. Dr Will Strange (Archdeacon of Ceredigion and Vice-Chair of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales) spoke of the ‘silencing of the catholic voice’. Canon Joanna Penberthy called for ‘a conversation about how we work together’ but noted the significance of a cultural context opposed to discrimination. Fr Ben Rabjohns hoped not for comfort, or to be able to ignore the decision to ordain women as bishops, but – as a 30-year-old incumbent – for the security and certainty of a long-term future that were essential for traditionalists to be able to flourish. As a priest, he needed episcopal ministry that involved a continuing relationship, not just occasional episcopal acts.
In his keynote address, the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, asked ‘hard questions’. Did the Church in Wales really mean what it said in the canon enabling women to be bishops – that traditionalists should be given ‘a sense of security in their accepted and valued place within the Church in Wales’? Did traditionalists really want to be in communion with the Bench of Bishops? He thought it ‘very, very unlikely’ that the Church in Wales would establish any form of supplemental episcopal ministry, but recognized that traditionalists needed a corporate life. He encouraged them to explore ‘double belonging’: loyal both to the fellowship of their diocese (with canonical obedience to the diocesan bishop) and to their own (non-political) fellowship (with ‘affective loyalty’ to a bishop, whose friendship, trust and relationships with the Bench of Bishops would be crucial).
Participants expressed commitment to continuing and extending the conversation in the dioceses and at the provincial level, possibly with facilitation. Building trust and reconciliation would require honesty (not least about past wounds on both sides), a willingness to listen, and a mutually gracious and affirming spirit. Existing friendships and our relationship within the Body of Christ would shape the context. The diversity of the Church in Wales was something to be valued.
The Chairman of Credo Cymru, Canon Jeffrey Gainer, said, ‘This was an opportunity for heart to speak to heart with integrity and charity. We are grateful to those of different views for their courage and generosity in coming to talk with us. I hope that the conversation will continue, drawing in others, and begin to transform our situation in the Church in Wales.’
Papers from the conference may be found at www.credocymru.com/news