Church in Wales

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Map of the Dioceses in the Church in Wales

The Church in Wales is the Anglican church in Wales.

The Church in Wales is composed of six dioceses, amongst whom one is the Archbishop of Wales. The Archbishop serves concurrently as one of the six diocesan bishops; the current archbishop is Barry Morgan, the Bishop of Llandaff.

As a member of the Anglican Communion, the Church recognizes the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, though he who does not have any formal authority in the Church in Wales except in a residual role, in an ecclesiastical court to try the archbishop, as metropolitan.

In contrast to the Church of England, the Church in Wales is no longer an established church. Its parishes were part of the Church of England until 1920, but were forcibly separated into a new church and disestablishment as of that year, under the Welsh Church Act 1914.

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".


Until disestablishment, the history of the Church is part of that of the Church of England. Christianity in Britain can be traced back to the Roman period, and Wales became the last redoubt of native British culture when the pagan Anglo-Saxons, the ancestral English, took over the bulk of the island. When Augustine came to bring the English to Christianity, the Welsh churches refused to bend the knee to him; they had no need for distant Rome on which they had never been dependent. However in following ages the churches did submit to the See of Rome and the gradual English conquest of Wales settled the matter, and the Welsh dioceses became part of the Province of Canterbury. The Reformation came to England and Wales alike, separating the Church of England from Rome and reforming it in Protestant form.


During the 19th century nonconformist churches grew rapidly in Wales, and 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 nonconformism and the high church practices of those who increasingly dominated the Anglican Church in the Welsh counties particularly conspicuous. A number of high-profile expulsions of evangelical clergy by bishops helped to create ill-feeling against the Church in its Welsh parishes.[1]

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 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 Lords, eventually being passed under the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911.

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, himself a papist and thus no friend to the Church of England, 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 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.

Due to the outbreak of First World War in the summer of 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.


Disendowment was even more controversial than disestablishment; it meant that the endowments of the Church in Wales were partially confiscated and redistributed to the University of Wales and to 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 truly began to develop and the Church of England ceased to be a comprehensive national church. Nonetheless, although secularisation of the cathedrals had been suggested, the Church in Wales was allowed to keep all the ancient church buildings, and it retains from pre-Disestablishment days the privilege of conducting legal marriages without reference to the civil registrar.

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 does not match the border of Wales for other purposes. A few districts in Monmouthshire, Radnorshire and Flintshire remain attached to parishes in the Dioceses of Hereford and Chester and consequently part of the Church of England. St Asaph lost a complete rural deanery, that of March (Shropshire), which was moved from St Asaph to Lichfield in order to correspond with the border, and to avoid disendowment.

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 and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

In the first years of the 21st century, the Church in Wales has begun 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 equal status of the Welsh and English languages in all aspects of Church life.


Though disestablishment might have been intended to do away with the Anglican church in Wales, in fact following disestablishment in 1920, the Church in Wales 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).[2]


Flag of the Church in Wales

The Church in Wales is governed episcopally, which is to say with bishops, as in other Anglican churches.

Before 1920, there were four dioceses in Wales, all 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 archdeaconries of Llandaff Diocese. Swansea and Brecon was created from the eastern part of St David's diocese, largely corresponding to the city of Swansea and the two counties of Brecknock and Radnor.


Until 1920 the Welsh church was part of the Church of England, and under the 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 and the 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 the Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan. A former Archbishop of Wales, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams has served as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated as Bishop of Monmouth in 1992, and became Archbishop of Wales in 1999. He was appointed by The Queen to be Archbishop of Canterbury in July 2002 notwithstanding that he was not then a clergyman of the Church of England.

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 episcopacy.

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 duly deputised bishop.

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 who cannot in conscience 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 who assists him in ministering to the Diocese of Llandaff. From April 2009, the incumbent was the Right Reverend David Wilbourne.[3]

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, 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 Oxfordian in leaning, there is 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.

The 1984 Book of Common Prayer, with supplemental materials added since 2002, is the current 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 forty years.

Outside links


  1. Thomas Rees: Miscellaneous Papers on Subjects Relating to Wales
  3. Bishops' biodata Church in Wales website

Further reading

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