What will happen to evangelicals in the Church in Wales?

(Photo: Unsplash/Ben White)

The governing body of that denomination – which is Anglican, but separate from the Church of England – voted at its most recent meeting to allow clergy to 'bless' same-sex civil partnerships and marriages. This is good news for liberals and progressives who dominate the Church in Wales, but not good news for evangelicals and others who continue to represent the majority Christian position found among most Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and others.

At first sight, an exemption clause seems to be something of a get-out clause for evangelicals, since 'no cleric of the Church in Wales is obliged to officiate' at such services. However, it looks as though Welsh bishops are insisting that clergy who cannot in good conscience take such a blessing are obliged to refer enquiring couples on to them, so that an alternative minister can be found.

So in practice evangelicals are forced to participate in making something happen even if they cannot in all conscience do it themselves. That's not really a get-out at all.

Hearing from evangelicals in the Church in Wales, it is clear that some feel discouraged, downhearted, misrepresented and isolated. So what sort of support might help?

1. Prayer. Some evangelicals will leave the Church in Wales, without question. There are those who will undoubtedly stay. There also seem to be a significant number who are praying and seeking God's guidance about what they should do, and are currently unsure.

One Welsh evangelical wrote to me: 'We all need God's wisdom, and one thing we have been speaking about here is the importance of a unity of spirit between evangelicals, and support for one another, whether people stay, or leave. I think it would be good to also pray specifically for evangelicals in positions of influence, for example, theological training, Archdeacons etc.'

Another request was 'to pray for us all to keep a right spirit – not becoming angry, or bitter, at the way things are going, and for spiritual and numerical growth, in spite of what has happened. Please also pray for those who are feeling really depressed about the whole situation'.

2. Bishops. You're an evangelical in the Church in Wales. You find that all the Bishops – all of them – support this change. You cannot in good conscience before God accept their episcopal oversight any more. To whom do you turn for alternative episcopal oversight?

Sadly, evangelical bishops in the Church of England seem to have remained publicly silent, at least so far as I am aware. Perhaps they fear being seen as meddlers, or colonialists, or boundary-crossing, or being accused of 'pre-empting Living in Love and Faith' (currently the latest favourite phrase for no-platforming orthodoxy). But given a doctrinal issue of this magnitude it feels discouraging and disheartening – not only for Welsh evangelicals, but for English ones too. And certainly at least one liberal English Bishop – Paul Bayes of Liverpool – has not felt constrained in voicing his support for the Welsh decision.

In the absence of anything else, it looks as though many Welsh evangelicals will have no option but to turn to Gafcon. The recently-formed Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) may well be the place they look to for support. ANiE – led by Bishop Andy Lines, is described as 'an authentic expression of Anglican church life and mission' and is for those who have given up on – or are effectively being pushed out by – the existing Anglican denominations.

3. Buildings. And this is a tricky one for Welsh evangelicals. In the Church of England, as a BBC report put it some years ago, 'legally, nobody actually owns England's 16,000 parish churches'. As the Church Times put it at one point, church ownership is 'uncertain'. Come any Church of England split, lawyers will have a field day.

But in Wales, things are different. According to one expert, 'virtually all church buildings are owned by a central trustee body, the Representative Body of the Church in Wales'. So clergy who in conscience leave the Church in Wales are much less likely to be able to take their buildings with them. Are there Christian lawyers, perhaps even reading this, or known to readers, who can advise clergy and maybe the Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales (EFCW)?

4. Money. You are a Church in Wales minister and you feel you have no option but to resign. You lose your job, your house and your income. Who will support you financially? Well, who? There are some wealthy evangelical donors around in England – could they support colleagues in Wales? Does the Kingdom Bank have a role to play?

5. Comfort. This decision by the Church in Wales is emotionally devastating for some. It would not be appropriate to break confidences or share details but 'emotionally devastating' is an understatement in some cases. If you know – or know of – evangelicals in this situation how can you draw close to them to help?

The most surprising thing to me about all this has been, as with evangelicals in the Methodist Church, the seeming lack of any pre-prepared contingency plans for this situation. Perhaps there are good reasons for that; I do not know, and now is not the time for recriminations. But while one should always hope, work and pray for the best, it is not ungodly to be ready for the worst – and to be ready in some detail.

Evangelicals in the Church of England – including the Church of England Evangelical Council and evangelical bishops – please take note. Because I really don't want to be typing these same words if the Church of England goes the same way in 18 months' time as well...

But future turmoil in the Church of England should not detract from present turmoil in the Church in Wales and all those caught up in it. The hearts of most of us reading this article will go out to these dear brothers and sisters. What action could you take as a result of what you have read above?

David Baker is Contributing Editor to Christian Today and Senior Editor of Evangelicals Now www.e-n.org.uk in print and online. He writes here in a purely personal capacity.