Happy 4th of July!

The Ministry Area Leader happens to be American ... and a bit cheeky. ;)  Now I'm off to barbecue things ...  

Website & Social Media

If we’ve learnt anything during lockdown, it’s that the world-wide web and social media are vital tools for church, particularly in reaching the (relatively) younger generations and those who are either unable to attend church or else wish to dip their toe in gently and (to their thinking) safely. YouTube channels and and Facebook broadcasts have been a lifeline to congregations this year, and an easy entryway to those who’ve been frightened or lonely or desperate for prayer. In the last few weeks, therefore, we have begun to put an online presence in place for the BMA. This includes a website that is nearly complete in basic form, a Facebook page which is live and developing, and Twitter and Instagram accounts which are online but still in development:

To be sure: there is no desire to take away from the hard work that some of our parishes have done online already. Although we aim to to help churches whose websites and social media are not so well developed, those who already have a strong online presence will continue as before. It’s not an either/or thing. However, we do wish to make available in one place the news and thinking from all our sister churches and from the ministry area as a whole — and to foster cross-pollination of thinking, hope, and prayer. We encourage you to follow us and to engage us in what we hope will be a genuine, ongoing, evolving online conversation.

Opinion: A Word on "Mother Churches"

In an earlier post I (the Ministry Area Leader) mentioned almost in passing that there would be no “mother church” or “named church” in the Beechwood Ministry Area, but promised a few words later on. The reason for this is borne of experience and observation, which I’d like to share.

For several decades, when merging churches into grouped parishes, united benefices, or rectorial benefices, the usual convention was for a new group to take the name of the largest and/or what was perceived to be the most historically significant church or market town. Hence, we ended up with names like the Rectorial Benefice of Caldicot; Caerwent Parish Group; Magor Ministry Area. At the time, the convention seemed the most obvious thing to most people in the hierarchy: we are used to naming churches by town (or ward) and we have a history of mother churches supporting daughter churches.

Unfortunately, the one group of folk who frequently didn’t find this convention the most obvious thing were the ones most deeply affected by it: the smaller churches who were not, in fact, daughter churches — and who now, often having struggled for many years just to survive, suddenly felt colonised and overshadowed by larger and more powerful neighbours. They, however, had little choice but to go along.

This, quite simply, was never a healthy place to be. It wrote into the structure the risk that smaller churches might feel ever on the defensive, fearing (often wrongly, but often rightly) that the mother church was the only one that really counted or got sufficient clergy attention. I can certainly name exceptions, but just as often I’ve observed that these churches felt (whether or not it was justified) unloved, bolted on, and left to their own devices to fight their corner for “what’s ours”. They worried that, at any point, someone might come along forcing them to haemorrhage money and resources to a larger neighbour who was perceived to have plenty already (whether or not that was even true). They saw their worship services cut to, say, bi-weekly or monthly, whilst the mother church got to keep all of theirs. It’s been clear, in my chats with other MALs, that here we have an inherited an historical dynamic that today we still struggle to get past and overcome.

Thus, back in 2014, when I was faced with the task of merging the Caerwent and the Penhow Parish Groups, I flat-out refused to allow a “mother church” or entertain anything that smacked of that language. (This, naturally, had a couple of people in one of the previous named-churches just a little nonplussed!) The reasoning was simple: whichever one got the name, the others would feel bolted on and subsumed. I insisted that this should be a true merger of equals … and thus proposed the name Wentwood Ministry Area. (I could be mistaken, but I believe it was the first time that a non-town-non-parish-specific name had been given in this Diocese. Whatever the case, it certainly felt brave at the time.)

That name turned out to be a success, and whilst I won’t say that everyone immediately played together nicely, it was very clear, very quickly that, whatever other challenges we might face, we were not going to have the problem of any perceived hierarchy in the MA name breeding long-term, bubbling resentment.

The Beechwood Ministry Area, of course, finds itself in a different position from tiny rural churches; but most of the principles still apply. Here we have four large parishes and two small – each with its own distinct corporate personality and gifts to offer. Any might well have a reasonable claim to “mother church”, but I am sure that the cost of naming one would be far too high, and for no reward. Our success as a Ministry Area, our ability to thrive, depends upon our willingness to meet our neighbours as fair partners on a level-pegging. Thus, my intention as MAL is to welcome each church not as a mother or daughter, but as a “bride of Christ”, each with the same privilege of inheriting the Good News of Christ from the generations spanning 2000 years, and with the privilege of proclaiming it afresh in this time, this generation, and this place. Simply, there can be no greater honour – ever.

Profile: Julio Benavides, MATT Representative for Caerleon

I was born in Spain and have three sisters and numerous other family members living mainly in Madrid. However, as I have lived in Wales for more than fifty years and gained British Citizenship in 1971, I consider myself an adopted Welshman and love living in this wonderful, small country.

I am blessed to be married to Carolyne and we have two daughters and two grandchildren, whom we adore. We usually see them as often as possible but, as they live in London and these are unusual times, this has not been possible. Zoom has been a life-saver in keeping everyone connected but cannot replace physical contact and warm hugs!

My working life was in Hospitality and having served my time in all departments of the catering industry, I reached the position of Regional Manager with a large international hotel company and was responsible for the running of about 50 hotels. Whilst this was a job I thoroughly enjoyed, the experience I gained enabled me to fulfil my life-long ambition to own my own business.

The good Lord has granted me more blessings than I deserve and in 1987 I achieved my ambition and opened my own business in Newport. I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this period of my working life and the opportunity it gave me to meet so many lovely people.

I have attended St. Cadoc’s Church, Caerleon for over 40 years and served firstly as the Gift Aid Secretary and then for 15 years as the Church Treasurer. I am a Eucharistic Minister and a server at the High Altar and help in any way I can in other areas of church life.

In my spare time I am the Chair of the Charles Williams Charity which is associated with the primary school of the same name in Caerleon. I love gardening, my allotment, rugby, live theatre and spending as much time as possible with Carolyne and the family.

The Role of the Clergy

The grapevine suggests that some query may exist over the role of clergy in church life in the new system, so it may be worth giving some space to clarify. In the Rectorial Benefice system, there exists a Rector (Ministry Area Leader), who holds the incumbency, but not by him- or herself; Vicars, who by right (not delegation) share in the Rector’s incumbency; and NSMs, who are licensed to the MA. As the MA will be, legally, one large parish, this means that all of the clergy are licensed to the whole ministry area; we will no longer be licensed to exclusively one church.

That said, long experience, backed by solid research, suggests that churches thrive best when they know who “their” priest is. Although the language of “focal ministry” is not as much in favour as in previous years, the principle still stands. To be sure: it will be of value for each of our parishes to know and engage with all the MA clergy in appropriate ways. But, for avoidance of doubt, be assured that “your” priest and his or her ministry will not be taken away; he or she will continue to be the point of first contact and guiding leader and pastor at the local church level. It is, indeed, that simple.

Our work as clergy at the MA level is collaborative, and we are already working hard to build a strong ethos of regular mutual consultation, consensus-building, and prayer as colleagues. It is to be hoped, on the one hand, that this ethos will spill down to the parishes, as well, in practical ways. On the other hand, your local clergy will continue to chair your LCC, to provide the key Sunday presence in your locality — though invitations to one another’s churches are always welcome! — and to exercise primary pastoral ministry. The MAL wishes to get to know each of these parishes and as many parishioners as possible and will seek opportunities to be available to all — but not at the expense of your own priest’s ability to thrive in ministry in his or her own place. Maindee will still have Fr. Will as parish priest; St. Julian’s, Fr. David; Alway, Fr. Sam; Lliswerry, Rev’d Linda; Caerleon, Rev’d Sue; Christchurch, Fr. Stephen.

Two of our parishes (St. Julian’s & Alway), it must be noted, have a particular stance on the sacramental ministry of women that will be respected in line with current Anglican norms, and they must be assured of this. In turn, their clergy have set a firm example of respecting +Cherry’s ministry as the ordinary of our diocese and the ministries of our local female colleagues. The modern Anglican approach encourages “mutual flourishing”, and that will be our watchword. We are required to live in communion to the fullest extent possible and to love one another even in the midst of ambiguities.

Building a Structure

The MATT met on 8th June to begin planning how the new structure of the Beechwood Ministry Area will work. As mentioned in an earlier edition, once the Bishop makes the legal decree that transforms us from individual parishes into a Rectorial Benefice, the Benefice will be one big parish and the Ministry Area Council will be its PCC. It is therefore crucial that each congregation feels as if it has a seat at the table and a voice in the governance. To that end, we have proposed the following structure:

In addition to the ex officio members (clergy & MA wardens), the MAC will have 2 elected representatives from each of the current parishes. These will be selected by the congregations annually at a local pre-vestry meeting (LPVM?) in each of the current parishes; then the names will be sent to the MA’s Annual Vestry Meeting to be ratified and therefore elected. We chose this number to keep the MAC manageable in size, but to enable the greatest amount of representation possible.

Although the current PCCs will cease to exist at the BMA’s creation, they will be replaced by Local Church Councils (LCCs) acting as sub-committees of the MAC and will retain considerable latitude in the day-to-day running of the local churches.

A Finance Sub-Committee will be put in place consisting of the MA Treasurer and the local church treasurers, plus any Gift Aid Secretaries (MA or local) who may be in place.

Additional sub-committeese.g., buildings, mission, etc. — may be created at the MAC’s discretion. The MATT has not yet proposed any; strategic decisions such as these are ultimately for the MAC. However, if a practical need is spotted prior to the merger, the MATT may make proposals later. It is expected that additional sub-committees are likely to be required — provided we’re not just making additional layers of governance for their own sake!

For clarity: members of MAC sub-committees need not sit directly on the MAC; however, at least one MAC member should sit on each of the sub-committees as the appropriate link person: e.g., the church reps on the LCCs, the MA Treasurer on the Finance Sub-Committee.

Purposes: as stated in previous editions, the MAC is intended to be a strategic body and forum for our common life; it is not aimed at micro-managing the local churches’ day-to-day goings on. Consequently, it will be important to get the right people for the right jobs on both the MAC and the LCCs. The MATT is currently coming up with role descriptions for both the MAC and the LCCs. This is still a work in progress, but it is assumed that everyone taking part in these committees will be prepared to take a role (and an enthusiasm for the work) for the sake of positive forward momentum and streamlining of both our local and common effort.

It is pleasing to note that agreement so far on the MATT has been consistently unanimous — we have worked towards genuine consensus and on all these points. Our work is going well — and swiftly! — and we do seem to be building a positive atmosphere for moving forward.

Profile: Roy Wigmore, MATT Representative for Maindee

Hugh Roy Wigmore member of the Ministry Area Transition Team and Fabric Chair for Maindee Parish.

Lived all my life in the City of Newport and on getting married to Margaret some 54 years ago moved to Caerleon.

As a boy of 15 started an apprenticeship as a Gas fitter and plumber with the then Wales Gas Board.

On completion of my apprenticeship and following further academic study, for the rest of my working career I worked as a Mechanical Engineer in local government working for the City of Newport, Gwent County Council, Mid Glamorgan County Council and Torfaen County Borough Council and finally the Water Regulations Authority.

Nothing apart from family gives me more pleasure than being an active member of St John's Church.

I also have a passion for photography, country music and in particular old time country music.

Profile: David Matthews, Parish Priest, St. Julian's & Alway

Fr. David is parish priest at Ss. Julius & Aaron, St. Julian's, and St. Teilo, Alway, in Newport.

I’m a Dubliner with a good sense of humour, who in 1996 was ordained Priest in Ireland. Before marrying Wendy, I was a Monk for many years and now as a Priest Oblate, I continue the contemplative life.

Before ordination, I was an interpreter and university lecturer in France, then worked in Ireland as an Inspector in Modern Languages.

1997: from Ireland to Newport as Bishop’s Chaplain at the Cathedral

2001: incumbency in Marshfield and St. Brides, plus Liturgical Advisor to the DAC, MU Chaplain and Vocations Advisor

2012: landed here ...

And now, alongside Parish work, I lead retreats and offer spiritual direction and ministry supervision to UK clergy and laity. I’m a member of the Provincial Discernment Panel for Ordained Ministry, a leader of formational cells with ministry candidates and assist with Post-Ordination Training. I’m also a visiting Lecturer in Applied Pastoral Theology at St Padarn’s.

I love coffee and working out - and a bit of furniture restoration :-)

The Money!

By popular request — and entirely unsurprisingly — we’ve been asked to address what’s happening with parish finances. I’ll be (and remain) blunt: the single biggest source of concern in all these MA conversations has been the directive that, henceforth, our finances will be done together centrally. This is understandable: people have worked hard over decades to pay the share, build reserves, keep churches running, and imagine the possibilities that wise investment and planning could build in the parish. This is not a small deal; it would not be fair to say otherwise.

However, it is equally important to say that, if we allow this process to be driven by fear or protectionism, we will get nowhere good — and fast. We can’t pretend that the change isn’t big. But we can choose to enter the process distrustfully, or — on solid theological and practical grounds — we can resolve to approach this by having one another’s backs.

An instinctive reaction may be to fear that “they” are coming to take away the assets we’ve worked for. But let’s take a moment to identify who “they” are. Are “they” the Diocese? Or the Church in Wales? Or some faceless MA structure? No. “They” are our fellow Christians, neighbours who worship nearby on Sunday, who have given their time and energy — just like us — and worked just as hard to care for their church’s resources. If we worry that “they” are coming for “our” money, then perhaps the real question to ask is this: are we interested in coming for theirs? No? Well … then why assume anything less of them?

Yes, the accounting will work differently. Yes, we’ll have to trust our fellow Christians to care for our money as they care for their own (just as we will have to step up and look after theirs). But to be crystal clear: by law, the restricted funds your church holds cannot simply go into a general pot. They will remain restricted. Fundraising for your church can still happen: anything advertised as “for St. Ermintrude’s Church funds” must, legally, go to benefit St. Ermintrude’s Church.

As the Transition Team continues its work, together with our treasurers, we will need to agree on how to structure and fund MA operations and parish share and split the burden fairly. However, it is not envisaged that local churches will lose access to designated funds they bring into the MA, nor that the general fund will lose sight of its original funding sources. The means of access and the process of accountability are yet to be established — we will keep you informed. But latitude and generosity should be the watchwords here, and churches should be trusted to handle day-to-day costs responsibly.

It will be in everyone’s interests to prioritise the well-being of our neighbours — because in doing so, we can have confidence that they will prioritise ours. This achieves the exact same goal as “protecting what’s ours”, but without all the awkward stuff that usually goes with that. It may even do the job better.

In the end, the Church’s money isn’t like the money in your bank account; the Church’s money is God’s; we are entrusted with stewardship. Our purpose, as individual churches and as a collective, are mission, ministry, and pastoral care. Either our money serves those ends, or it has no other point. If we start our conversations there — the strength of our ministries — and get that right, we will know what to do with the money.

The Name!

In all the four gospels, Christ gives a personal name to just one sole character in his parables: Lazarus (of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”). It’s a striking point to recognise because, not only is this unique in Christ’s stories, but the name Jesus chooses is that of his own best friend. Clearly, he loves the character at some deep level, uniquely and specially, and the naming bestows honour. Our names are important; they are crucial to our identity, and we use them accordingly.

Thus, it is important that the Newport No. 2 Ministry Area have a strong and fair name, which Christ can bless. We have been aware that “East Newport Ministry Area”, though familiar and comfortable to five of our six parishes, does not describe the new area so accurately as it did the old. However, “East Newport and Caerleon” singles out one parish for special treatment in a way that is unfair to five others which also have their own distinct identities. Further, either choice runs the risk of treating Caerleon as “bolted on” to an otherwise established Ministry Area — which would not create a healthy dynamic for the future.

We therefore took the decision to treat the new Ministry Area as a new creation entirely — as, in fact, it is — and to let the name to reflect that fact. (Language has a strong impact on culture and culture on language; best to start as we mean to go on.) The hope was to take a single, simple name that gives no preeminence nor special treatment to any of our churches (there will be no “mother church” in Newport No. 2, a point for discussion in a future article), but embraces us all as equal in dignity and equally valued in the contribution to our common life.

The Transition Team soon found easy agreement on Beechwood Ministry Area as our new name. Initially suggested by Archdeacon Jonathan because Beechwood is the exact geographical centre of the new MA, the name was adopted by the Transition Team at their most recent meeting (12th May), and welcomed and ratified by the Clergy Team at theirs (19th May). In both cases, consent was unanimous. The advantages to this name are that (a) the geographic centre is a fair and simple descriptor; (b) there is no Beechwood parish; the name is neutral; (c) all of our churches can therefore start afresh on a level pegging; (d) a new name allows us to look to the future without the baggage of trying to shoehorn old names into new circumstances. We hope the choice is well received in the pews; it is certainly offered in good faith and with care for all.

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