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The Church in Wales

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The Church in Wales




The Church in Wales (Welsh: Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) is a member Church of the Anglican Communion, consisting of six dioceses in Wales. The Church was split from the Church of England in 1920; at the same time becoming disestablished.

Christianity in Wales can be traced back to the Romano-British period, and Wales became a refuge for other Brythons following the pagan Anglo-Saxon invasion of what became England, so much so that the Welsh refused to co-operate with Augustine of Canterbury's mission to the Anglo-Saxons.

However, a combination of Celtic Christianity's reconciliation with Rome and English conquest of Wales meant that from the Middle Ages until 1920, the Welsh dioceses were part of the Province of Canterbury -- in communion with the See of Rome until the Reformation, and continuing afterwards as part of the Church of England. From the time of Henry VIII, Wales had been absorbed into England as a legal entity and the Established Church in Wales was the Church of England.

During the 19th century the nonconformist churches grew rapidly in Wales, so much so that, eventually, the majority of Welsh Christians were nonconformist, although the Church of England remained the largest single religious denomination.

At the beginning of the 20th century, under the influence of nonconformist politicians such as David Lloyd George, the Welsh Church Act 1914 was passed by the Liberal Government to separate the Anglican Church in Wales from the Church of England. The Bill was fiercely resisted by the Conservatives, and blocked in the House of Lords, eventually being passed by the use of the Parliament Act. Welsh disestablishment was also a way of asserting a national identity.

The opposition to disestablishment was led by the Liberal Party politician F.E. Smith, who characterized the effort as "a Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe." In response to this overwrought description, the writer G.K. Chesterton (at that time an Anglican, but who later converted to Roman Catholicism) penned the vicious satirical poem, "Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode."

The Act both disestablished and disendowed the "Church in Wales", the term used to define the part of the Church of England which was to be separated. Disestablishment meant the end of the Church's special legal status and Welsh bishops were no longer entitled to sit in the House of Lords as "Lords Spiritual". Establishment had brought limitations as well as advantages. For example, priests of the Church of England were barred from sitting in the House of Commons, but this no longer applied to priests in Wales. The Church in Wales became independent of the state.

Disendowment, which was even more controversial, meant that the endowments of the Church in Wales were partially confiscated and redistributed to the University of Wales and local authorities. Endowments before 1662 were to be confiscated; those of later date were to be left. This was justified on the theory that the pre-1662 endowments were to a true National Church of the whole population, and hence belonged to the people as a whole rather than to the Church in Wales. This reasoning was hotly contested. The date 1662 was that of the Act of Uniformity following the Restoration; a case could be made that this was the point at which the Church of England ceased, or began to cease, to be a truly comprehensive national church and nonconformity began to develop.

The coming into effect of the Welsh Church Act 1914 was delayed by the outbreak of the First World War, and a further Act of 1919 left the Church in Wales somewhat better off than the 1914 Act. Disestablishment eventually came into effect in 1920. This meant that, unlike England, Wales no longer had a state Church.

Parishes overlapping the border were allocated either to the Church in Wales or to the Church of England, with the result that the line of disestablishment is not exactly the same as the England´┐ŻWales border A few districts in Monmouthshire and Radnorshire remain attached to parishes in the diocese of Hereford and consequently established..The Oswestry deanery was detached from the St. Asaph diocese.

The Church in Wales is as a result fully independent of both the state and the Church of England, and is an independent member of the Anglican Communion like the Church of Ireland or the Scottish Episcopal Church. Like all Anglican churches, it recognizes the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who does not however have any formal authority outside England. The Church in Wales is also a member of the Porvoo Communion.

The Church in Wales adopted its name rather by accident. The Welsh Church Act 1914 had referred throughout to "the Church in Wales", the phrase apparently being used to indicate the part of the Church [of England] in Wales. A Convention of the Welsh Church in 1920 considered what name to use, and tended to favour "the Church of Wales", but there were fears that adopting a name different from that given by the Act might cause serious legal problems. Given the situation, it did not seem sensible to invite even more problems at that point, and so "the Church in Wales" was allowed to stand.

Following disestablishment, the Church in Wales ironically did rather better than the nonconformist churches, which suffered decline in the twentieth century.

The Representative Body is responsible for the care of the Church's property and funding many of the activities of the Church, including support for priests' stipends (like salaries) and pensions. The Governing Body functions as a kind of parliament (similar to the Church of England General Synod) for the Church.

There are four Anglican dioceses in Wales which were part of the Province of Canterbury, prior to the creation of the Church in Wales, and each led by its own bishop:

  • The Diocese of Bangor
  • The Diocese of St Asaph
  • The Diocese of St David's
  • The Diocese of Llandaff

Two further dioceses have been created since the creation of the Church in Wales:

  • The Diocese of Monmouth in 1921.
  • The Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in 1923.

Monmouth was created from the eastern part of Llandaff diocese, largely corresponding to the traditional county of Monmouthshire. Swansea and Brecon was created from the eastern part of the St David's diocese, largely corresponding to what is now the City & County of Swansea and the traditional counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire.

Diocesan Bishops
Unlike bishops in the Church of England, each bishop of the Church in Wales is elected by an 'Electoral College' which consists of representatives of the diocese seeking a new bishop, representatives of the other five dioceses in Wales and all the other Bishops of the Church in Wales. Currently the Church in Wales does not consecrate women as bishops, however this will be most likely put to a vote of the Governing Body in 2008. The Archbishop of Wales, the head of the Church in Wales, is elected by and from the six diocesan bishops and continues as a diocesan bishop after his election.

  • The Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan - Bishop of Llandaff and Archbishop of Wales
  • The Right Revd John Davies - Bishop of St Asaph
  • The Right Revd Anthony Pierce - Bishop of Swansea and Brecon
  • The Right Revd Carl Cooper - Bishop of St David's
  • The Right Revd Dr Dominic Walker - Bishop of Monmouth
  • The Right Revd Anthony Crockett - Bishop of Bangor

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams is the first Welsh-born Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated and enthroned as Bishop of Monmouth in 1992, and Archbishop of Wales in 1999. He was appointed by the Queen (having been proposed by the Crown Appointments Commission) to be Archbishop of Canterbury in July 2002. He was succeeded as Bishop of Monmouth by the former Bishop of Reading, the Right Revd Dr Dominic Walker, and was succeeded as Archbishop of Wales by the Bishop of Llandaff, the Right Revd Dr Barry Morgan.

Assistant Bishops
In addition to the six Diocesan Bishops, there are currently two Assistant Bishops within the Church. In 1996, the Church in Wales approved the ordination of women, and the Provincial Assistant Bishop was appointed to provide pastoral care for those who could not in good conscience accept the ordination of women. As in the Church of England, there are now many female priests and deacons in active ministry in the Church.

  • The Right Revd David Thomas - Provincial Assistant Bishop

It is usual for the Archbishop to appoint an Assistant Bishop to help within the Archbishop's diocese. On becoming Archbishop, Dr. Barry Morgan appointed The Venerable David Yeoman as his Assistant Bishop.

  • The Right Revd David Yeoman - Assistant Bishop of Llandaff


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