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Map of the Dioceses in the Church in Wales
The Church in Wales ( ) is a member Church of the Anglican Communion, consisting of six dioceses in Walesmarker. Like many Anglican churches, it recognizes the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who does not however have any formal authority in Wales (except for residual roles: in ecclesiastical court to try the archbishop, as metropolitan in a handful of border parishes remaining in the Church of England and thus exempt from disestablishment, and the appointment of notaries). It has proved possible for a clergyman of the Church in Wales to come to occupy the See of Canterbury, and the current Archbishop, the Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams is Welsh and originally held posts in the Church in Wales. As with the primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Wales serves concurrently as one of the six diocesan bishops; currently, the Most Rev Dr Barry Morgan is both Archbishop of Wales and Bishop of Llandaff. Disestablishment was effected in 1920; thus unlike in Scotlandmarker and Englandmarker, Wales no longer has an established church.

Official name

The Church in Wales ( ) adopted its name rather 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 Welsh territory. 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".


See also Celtic Christian traditions in Gwynedd

Christianity in Wales can be traced back to the Romano-British period. Wales became a refuge for other Brythons following the pagan Anglo-Saxon invasion of what became Englandmarker, 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 the See of Rome and the English conquest of Wales meant that from the Middle Ages until 1920, the Welsh dioceses were part of the Province of Canterbury, and also in communion with the See of Rome until the Reformation, 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.


Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, opposed disestablishment.
During the 19th century 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. The Welsh Revival of 1904 made the gap between nonconformist and high church practices of those who dominated the Church of Wales particularly conspicuous. A number of high-profile incidents where evangelical clergy were expelled by bishops helped to create a legacy of ill-feeling among the people against the Church in Wales.

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 1905–1915 in order to separate the Anglican Church in Wales from the Church of England. The bill was fiercely resisted by members of the Conservative Party, and blocked in the House of Lordsmarker, eventually being passed by the use of the Parliament Act 1911. The absence of any Welshman from Welsh bishoprics for 150 years had caused real resentment, and disestablishment was a way of asserting national identity .

The opposition to disestablishment was led by the Conservative Party politician F.E. Smith, who characterised the effort 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.

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 Lordsmarker 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 Commonsmarker, but this no longer applied to priests in Wales. 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, 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 on the theory that the pre-1662 endowments were 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 truly began to develop and the Church of England ceased to be a comprehensive national church.

The coming into effect of the Welsh Church Act 1914 did not happen until 1920 due to the outbreak of World War I.

To meet the loss of income, a successful fund-raising drive was undertaken. By the end of the 20th century this had unexpectedly placed the Church in Wales in a superior financial position to the Church of England.

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 Monmouthshire Radnorshiremarker and Flintshire remain attached to parishes in the Dioceses of Herefordmarker and Chestermarker and consequently part of the Church of England. Today, the Church in Wales is 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.

In the first years of the 21st century, the Church in Wales began to engage in numerous debates, particularly concerning the appointment of women to the episcopate, and the recognition by the province as a whole of the equality between Welsh and English in all parts of Church life.


Following disestablishment in 1920, the Church in Wales fared better than the nonconformist churches, which suffered decline during the latter part of the twentieth century. In 2006 the average weekly attendance was recorded at 6,780 for those under 18 and 39,490 for those over 18 years of age. The highest attendance was at Easter with 68,120 at worship (68,837 in 2007).


Flag of the Church in Wales.

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

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

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

Monmouth was created from one of the archdeaconaries 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.

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 in Wales. The Church in Wales does not ordain women to the epsicopacy (confirmed by a close vote 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 after election.

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

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 then Bishop of Reading, the Right Reverend Dominic Walker, and was succeeded as Archbishop of Wales by the Bishop of Llandaff, the Right Reverend, now the Most Reverend, Dr Barry Morgan.

Assistant bishops

Following the retirement of Bishop David Thomas as Provincial Assistant Bishop in 2008, the Bench of Bishops has decided that it would not continue to appoint a specific bishop to minister to those whose consicence cannot accept the ministry of women.

The archbishopric had from time to time had an assistant bishop to assist in diocesan ministration. Archbishop Morgan has an assistant bishop within the Diocese of Llandaff who assists him in ministering to the diocese. From April 2009, the incumbent was the Right Reverend David Wilbourne.

Representative Body

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 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, that is to say that many of the traditions inherited from the Oxford Movement, in more rural dioceses such as St David's and Bangor and the industrial parishes of Llandaff and Monmouth. However, even though the province in terms of theology and liturgy is more liberal and Anglo-Catholic in leaning, there is a tradition of evangelicalism, especially in the southern parts of Wales, and the university town of Aberystwythmarker. 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.

The Book of Common Prayer

The publication of the 2004 Holy Eucharist and 2006 Rites of Christian Initiation are the largest reforms in liturgy in nearly forty years. It is hoped that by the end of the decade that the 2004 Eucharist rite will be the sole celebrated rite within the province, leading the Church to become more centered on the Eucharist. The Standing Liturgical Commission are preparing resources for Morning, Evening and Daily Prayer which will be published in Autumn 2009.

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 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 threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are sacred Scripture, sacred tradition, and reason; these three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.

This balance of Scripture, tradition and reason 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.

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.

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.

See also


Further reading

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

External links

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