I have recently returned from the annual General Assembly of Presbyterian Church of Wales, held in Cardiff, over three very warm days at the beginning of July. The theme of the Assembly was taken from John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”. They met in a lecture hall in the Cardiff Metropolitan University, with the two evening worship sessions being held in the local PCW church, Eglwys y Crwys. The photograph (not very good quality, sorry) shows the immediate past Moderator (Prof J Gwynfor Jones) shaking hands with the newly installed Moderator, (Revd Brian Huw Jones).
Overall, the PCW feels familiar to an ‘URCer’ as their governance is very similar to ours. There are some interesting differences. For example, the stole and gown ‘belong’ to the office of Moderator, so as one Moderator steps down and the new Moderator is installed the gown is removed from the shoulders of one person and placed on the shoulders of another. This must make the loss of office a stark reality. Their equivalent of the M&M requests are collected on a per capita basis. For 2018 the increase was specified as 2% for inflation and 4% to cover the reduction in members; this really does highlight the declining membership issue.
It is interesting to compare the statistics for our two denominations. The URC is a bit less than three times the size of the PCW in terms of members and congregations, but has more than ten times the number of stipendiary ministers. Do we have something to learn from the PCW as our average number of congregations per minister increases?
One of the Mission presentations was from a volunteer chaplain who is part of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. This was set up in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, and is now well established in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK. There are 42 trained crisis chaplains in the UK, all of whom have been supporting the Grenfell Tower survivors.
As part of the Assembly there is the annual Davies Lecture. This was delivered by Revd Dafydd Andrew Jones on the subject ‘Oasis of Hope’. Dafydd described the journey the denomination has undergone as a backdrop to a vision for the future. I was struck by one phrase, “Our churches should be an oasis of hope, but what do people see? Small groups with the stamp of yesterday on them”. I don’t suppose this comment only apples to the PCW.
This was the first year of the new reduced-length format held over three days instead of four, which might be why a few of the session felt a bit rushed. The Assembly was structured more like an AGM than a policy forum, and that made it somewhat difficult for the ecumenical partners to contribute in the formal sessions. However, many informal conversations went on in the coffee and food breaks. As a guest, I was struck by the fact that I had more access to the other guests than I did the PCW moderators; which is only to be expected. This is no bad thing as I was able to build relationships with the Moderators of the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
Overall, this was worthwhile participating in because of the relationships we developed and the overt support we have given to our Christian sisters and brothers in Wales.