Church in Wales

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The Church in Wales
Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru
Modern logo of the Church in Wales
Independence 1920 (Disestablishment)
Primate Barry Morgan (Archbishop of Wales)
Headquarters Cardiff
Territory Wales
Language Welsh and English
Members 78,000 members,[1] 152,000 attendees (2014),[2] 350,000 affiliates[3]
Map of the dioceses in the Church in Wales

The Church in Wales (Welsh: Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) is the Anglican church in Wales, composed of six dioceses. It defines itself as "the ancient Church of this land, catholic and reformed. It proclaims and holds fast the doctrine and ministry of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church".[4]

As with the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Wales serves concurrently as one of the six diocesan bishops. The current archbishop is Barry Morgan, the Bishop of Llandaff.

Unlike the Church of England, the Church in Wales is not an established church. Disestablishment was effected in 1920 under the Welsh Church Act 1914.

As a province of the Anglican Communion, the Church in Wales recognises the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of unity but without any formal authority in the Church in Wales (except for residual roles — in ecclesiastical court to try the archbishop, as metropolitan; and the appointment of notaries, and the granting of Special Marriage Licences[5]). Eighteen cross-border parishes remained in the Church of England and were exempt from disestablishment.[6] A cleric of the Church in Wales can be appointed to posts in the Church of England, including the See of Canterbury; the former archbishop, Rowan Williams, was from Wales and served as Archbishop of Wales before his appointment to Canterbury. According to the Mission Atlas Project, 350,000 affiliates identify with the Church in Wales.[3]

Official name

The Church in Wales (Welsh: Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) adopted its name by accident. The Welsh Church Act 1914 referred throughout to "the Church in Wales", the phrase being used to indicate the part of the Church of England within Wales. In 1920, a convention of the Welsh church considered what name to select and tended to favour "the Church of Wales". However, there were concerns that adopting a name different from that mentioned in the act might cause legal problems. Given the situation, it seemed sensible to adopt the title "the Church in Wales".[citation needed]


Christianity in Wales can be traced back to the Romano-British period and an organised episcopal church has had continuous existence in Wales since that time. Wales became a refuge for other Britons following the pagan Anglo-Saxon invasion of what became England. The Welsh refused to co-operate with Augustine of Canterbury's mission to the Anglo-Saxons. However, a combination of other Celtic dioceses reconciling with the See of Rome and the English conquest of Wales meant that from the Middle Ages, the Welsh dioceses were part of the Province of Canterbury and also in communion with the See of Rome until the English Reformation. Afterward they were part of the Church of England until disestablishment in 1920. 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.


F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, opposed disestablishment

During the 19th century, Nonconformist churches grew rapidly in Wales and eventually the majority of Welsh Christians were Nonconformists, although the Church of England remained the largest single denomination. By the mid-nineteenth century the failure to appoint a Welsh-speaking bishops to any Welsh diocese for 150 years caused real resentment; disestablishment was seen as way to assert national and linguistic identity.

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 Anglicanism in Wales from the Church of England. The bill was fiercely resisted by members of the Conservative Party and blocked in the House of Lords, eventually being passed under the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911.

The opposition to disestablishment was led by the Conservative politician F. E. Smith, who characterised the disestablishment bill as "a Bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe." In response to this description, the writer G. K. Chesterton penned the satirical poem "Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode".[7]

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. As the Church in Wales became independent of the state, tithes were no longer available to the church, leaving it without a major source of income.

Disendowment, which was even more controversial than disestablishment, 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 remain. This was justified by the theory that the pre-1662 endowments had been granted to the national church of the whole population, and hence belonged to the people as a whole rather than to the Church in Wales; understandably, this reasoning was hotly contested. The date 1662 was that of the Act of Uniformity following the Restoration; it was after this point that Nonconformist congregations began to develop and the Church of England ceased to be a comprehensive national church. Although secularisation of the cathedrals had been suggested, the Church in Wales retained all the ancient church buildings and the privilege of conducting legal marriages without reference to the civil registrar.

Due to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Welsh Church Act 1914 was passed together with the Suspensory Act 1914, meaning that the Welsh Church Act would not be implemented for the duration of the war. Disestablishment finally came into effect in 1920.

Since 1920

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 the same as the border between the two countries. A few districts in the former counties of Monmouthshire, Radnorshire and Flintshire remain attached to parishes in the Dioceses of Hereford and Chester and consequently part of the Church of England. A complete English rural deanery with the generalised name March near Chirbury, was transferred from its historic setting in the Diocese of St Asaph causing correspondence with the civil border there. Today, the Church in Wales is fully independent of both the state and the Church of England. It is an independent member of the Anglican Communion as are the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

In the first years of the 21st century, the Church in Wales has begun to engage in numerous debates. These particularly concern the appointment of women to the episcopate and the provincial recognition of the equal statuses of the Welsh and English languages in all aspects of church life.


Following disestablishment in 1920, the Church in Wales initially fared better than the Nonconformist churches, which suffered a decline during the late 20th century. In 2006 the average weekly attendance was recorded at 6,780 aged under 18 and 39,490 aged over 18. The highest attendance was at Easter, with 68,120 at worship (68,837 in 2007).[8] In 2014, the attendance in the Church in Wales was 52,021 at Easter which is a decline of approximately 16,000 members since 2007, but an increase from 2013. Also, in 2014, 19 churches were closed or made redundant. Overall, in 2014, the Church in Wales reported 152,000 attendees in its parishes and congregations compared to 105,000 in 2013.[9]


Flag of the Church in Wales

The polity of the Church in Wales is episcopal church governance, which is the same as other Anglican churches.

Prior to 1920, there were four dioceses in Wales, all part of the Province of Canterbury and each led by its own bishop:

Two additional dioceses were erected soon after the creation of the Church in Wales:

Monmouth was created from one of the archdeaconries of Llandaff diocese. Swansea and Brecon was created from the eastern part of St David's diocese, largely corresponding to the city and county of Swansea and the traditional counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire.


Until 1920 the Welsh church was part of the Church of England and under the metropolitical jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since independence in 1920, the Church in Wales has been led by the Archbishop of Wales, who is both the metropolitan bishop and primate. The Archbishop of Wales is elected by and from the six diocesan bishops and continues as a diocesan after election. The current archbishop is Barry Morgan.

A former Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, became the first Welsh-born Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated and enthroned as Bishop of Monmouth in 1992 and as Archbishop of Wales in 1999. He was appointed by the Queen (his appointment having been proposed by the Crown Appointments Commission) as Archbishop of Canterbury in July 2002.

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 in which a vacancy occurs, representatives of the other dioceses in Wales and all bishops of the church. As of 2013, the Church in Wales has officially agreed to the ordination of women as bishops, officially five years after a previous proposal for their ordination failed in 2008.[10]

In descending order of seniority, the current bench of Welsh bishops is:

In cases where a see is vacant due to the death or transfer of a bishop, episcopal acts such as ordinations and confirmations are carried out by the archbishop or a deputised bishop.

Assistant bishops

Following the retirement of Bishop David Thomas as Provincial Assistant Bishop in 2008, the Bench of Bishops decided that it would not continue to appoint a specific bishop to minister to those who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women as priests. This point was reiterated by Barry Morgan at the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in September 2013 during the debate on whether or not the Church in Wales would ordain women to the episcopate.

The archbishopric had from time to time had an assistant bishop to assist in diocesan ministration. Barry Morgan has an assistant bishop who assists him in ministering in the Diocese of Llandaff. From April 2009, the incumbent was David Wilbourne.[11]

Representative Body

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

Worship and liturgy

The Church in Wales as a whole tends to be predominantly High Church, meaning that many of the traditions are inherited from the Oxford Movement in more rural dioceses such as St David's and Bangor and especially in the industrial parishes of Llandaff and Monmouth. Although the province tends more toward liberal and Anglo-Catholic positions in theology and liturgy, it also has a tradition of evangelicalism, especially in the southern parts of Wales, and the university town of Aberystwyth. In the 1960s there was a revival of evangelicalism within the Church in Wales and the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales exists to support such members of the church.

Book of Common Prayer

The 1984 Book of Common Prayer, with supplemental materials added since 2002, is the current prayer book in use in the province of Wales. The publication of the 2004 Holy Eucharist and 2006 Rites of Christian Initiation are the largest reforms in liturgy in nearly 40 years. New rites have also been produced for matrimony, funerals and daily prayer.

Other publications

Discontinued publications which frequently provided articles of sub-academic quality were Province and Yr Haul â'r Gangell. Current news is provided now mainly in English in the weekly Y Llan and in Highlights, which appears in connection with meetings of the Governing Body.

Doctrine and practice

Central to the teaching of the Church in Wales is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The basic teachings of the church, or catechism, include:

The balance of Scripture, tradition and reason as authority for faith and practice is traced to the work of Richard Hooker, a sixteenth-century apologist. In Hooker's model, Scripture is the primary means of arriving at doctrine, and things stated plainly in Scripture are accepted as true. Issues that are ambiguous are determined by tradition, which is checked by reason.[12]

Social issues

Beginning in the 1980s, the Church in Wales embarked on an increasingly open stand on various issues including economic justice, ordination of women, and inclusion of homosexual people. In some areas, such as human sexuality, the church establishment has faced resistance from congregations. In 2012, Archbishop Barry Morgan endorsed civil marriage for same-sex couples and encouraged Anglicans to support the legislation.[13] Currently, however, the Church in Wales is discussing the possibility of blessing or performing same-sex marriages. Within that discussion, 58% of respondents supported the blessing of same-sex marriages and 42% opposed; the Diocese of Llandaff and the Diocese of St. Asaph overwhelmingly supported the blessing of same-sex marriages.[14]

Ecumenical relations

Like many other Anglican provinces, the Church in Wales entered into full communion with the Old Catholics. The Church in Wales is also a member of the Porvoo Communion. Because of the Anglo-Catholic dominance, relations with the Free Churches (formerly known during establishment times as Nonconformists), ecumenical progress has been slower in Wales than in England.[citation needed] A covenant (with church unity as an ultimate goal) was signed by the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the United Reformed Church, and some Baptist churches in 1982 under the title of Enfys ("rainbow").

See also


  1. "Church in Wales". World Council of Churches. Retrieved November 1, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Church in Wales Membership and Finances 2014" (PDF). Church in Wales. Retrieved December 27, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "United Kingdom: Basic Facts". Mission Atlas Project. Retrieved January 12, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Y Catechism; Amelinelliad o'r Ffydd - The Catechism: An Outline of the Faith. Section III, clause 25, p. 7 (Caerdydd/Cardiff. Gwasg yr Eglwys yng Nghymru/Church in Wales Publications 1993)
  5. s.6, Welsh Church (Temporalities) Act 1919. Both these functions formed part of the jurisdiction of the Papal Legate which were transferred to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Reformation.
  6. The First Report of the Commissioners for Church Temporalities in Wales (1914-16) Cd 8166, p 5; Second Report of the Commissioners for Church Temporalities in Wales (1917-18) Cd 8472 viii 93, p 4
  7. "Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode".
  9. "Church in Wales Membership and Finances" (PDF). Church in Wales. Retrieved November 1, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Female Bishops approved by Church in Wales", The Guardian, 12 September 2013.
  11. Bishops' biodata, Church in Wales website
  12. Anglican Listening goes into detail on how scripture, tradition, and reason work to "uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way".
  13. Taylor, Jerome. "Archbishop of Wales publicly calls on Anglicans to support gay civi marriages". Independent UK. Retrieved December 27, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Same-sex Partnership Note" (PDF). Church in Wales. Retrieved September 15, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • D T W Price, A History of the Church in Wales in the Twentieth Century (Church in Wales Publications, 1990)

External links