United Kingdom-Wales

By Evans, Sion Rhys | The Ecumenical Review, July-October 2006 | Go to article overview
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United Kingdom-Wales

Evans, Sion Rhys, The Ecumenical Review

The Covenanted Churches in Wales within CYTUN: Churches together in Wales (formerly ENFYS: The Commission of the Covenanted Churches in Wales): Church in Wales [Anglican], Committee of the Covenanted Baptist Churches in Wales, Methodist Church of Great Britain, Presbyterian Church of Wales (or Calvinistic Methodist Church of Wales), United Reformed Church

I. The Covenanted Relationship, 1975-1997

A covenant was signed by four churches in Wales (the Church in Wales [Anglican], the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Presbyterian Church of Wales and the United Reformed Church) in 1975; the Committee of the Covenanted Baptist Churches became signatories in 1976. The covenant included statements of recognition and intention (concerning: faith, guardianship of the oikoumene, ecclesial catholicity, baptism and the common calling of members, ordained ministry, worship and sacramental life, and ecclesial governance). It also envisaged, though did not describe, a covenanted relationship through which "we may be brought into one visible Church to serve together in mission," noting that "we do not yet know the form union will take."

Discussions preparatory to a scheme of union for a uniting church were held in the mid-1980s, but their conclusions did not receive sufficient support within all the signatory-churches, and a comprehensive scheme was not drafted. Of the documentation and liturgies assembled during these discussions, only the "Covenanted Communion Service"--a rite for the concelebration of the Eucharist by ministers of the signatory-churches--has gained currency, although it may now have been superseded. (12)

II. An "Ecumenical Bishop"

A more modest, if creative and pioneering scheme was drawn up in 1998. A paper, Towards the Making of an Ecumenical Bishop in Wales, proposed an "ecumenical bishop" (whose Episcopal status would be acknowledged and regarded by the signatory-churches) to oversee 11 congregations (which were already collaborating closely) in an area of East Cardiff. (13) It was perceived that such an "ecumenical bishop" would create an experimental paradigm that was both unprecedented (14) and organic, (15) It was hoped that the resultant evolution of the model would aid the covenanted relationship by producing a methodology applicable in other (possibly national) contexts where Episcopal, Presbyterian/connexional and congregational polities were to be bridged. However, the scheme did not receive sufficient support from the governing instruments of the Church in Wales and the Presbyterian Church of Wales.

III. A Review of the Covenanted Relationship

Much hurt was caused by the failure of the scheme for an "ecumenical bishop", and questions were asked about the continuing efficacy of the covenanted relationship. A review was instigated, during which the signatory-churches were asked to consider, among other questions, "in what ways--if any--locally, regionally or nationally, can our witness ... be strengthened through the Covenant?" [author's emphasis]. (16) It became clear that many in the contemporary leadership and membership of the signatory-churches were unaware of (and in some cases did not feel able immediately to affirm) the statements of recognition and intention made in the Covenant almost 30 years earlier.

The review produced two outcomes: first, in the spring of 2004, the signatory-churches were able to declare (in the "Trefeca Declaration"):

   We reaffirm our commitment to journeying together in covenant
   relationship. In the consultation process of 2003-4 we have heard
   and understood each other better. We remain committed to the goal
   of the journey being the visible unity of the Church in the way
   that Christ wills. As covenanted partners, within the family of
   Cytun, (17) we commit ourselves during the six-year period
   2005-2011 to: (a) a fuller sharing in one another's ministries,
   making the best possible use of the provisions of each church;
   (b) always undertaking new work jointly except where in
   conscience we must do so separately; (c) pooling resources in
   order to provide a united witness to Wales; and (d) listening to
   what the nation is saying to the Church. 

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