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Church in Wales
Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru
Coat of Arms of the Church in Wales.svg
Coat of arms of the Church in Wales
Classification Protestant (with various theological and doctrinal identities, including Anglo-Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical)
Orientation Anglican
Scripture Holy Bible
Theology Anglican doctrine
Polity Episcopal
Primate Andy John, Archbishop of Wales and Bishop of Bangor
Language Welsh and English
Headquarters Cardiff
Territory Wales with 1,500 congregations
Independence 1920 (Disestablishment)
Members 42,441 (2018)
Map of Church-in-Wales
Map of the dioceses in the Church in Wales

The Church in Wales (Welsh: Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) is an Anglican Communion church in Wales, composed of six dioceses.

The Archbishop of Wales does not have a fixed archiepiscopal see, but serves concurrently as one of the six diocesan bishops. The position is currently held by Andy John, Bishop of Bangor, since 2021.

Unlike the Church of England, the Church in Wales is not an established church. Disestablishment took place in 1920 under the Welsh Church Act 1914.

As a province of the Anglican Communion, the Church in Wales recognises the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of unity but without any formal authority. A cleric of the Church in Wales can be appointed to posts in the Church of England, including the See of Canterbury; a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was from Wales and served as Archbishop of Wales before his appointment to Canterbury.

Official name

The Church in Wales (Welsh: Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru) adopted its name 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 Wales. 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".


Christianity in Wales can be traced back to the Romano-British period and an organised episcopal church has had continuous existence in Wales since that time. Wales became a refuge for other Britons following the pagan Anglo-Saxon invasion of what became England. The Welsh refused to co-operate with Augustine of Canterbury's mission to the Anglo-Saxons. However, a combination of other Celtic dioceses reconciling with the See of Rome and the English conquest of Wales meant that from the Middle Ages, the Welsh dioceses were part of the Province of Canterbury and also in communion with the See of Rome until the English Reformation. Afterward they were part of the Church of England until disestablishment in 1920. 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.


Birkenhead by Spy0002
F. E. Smith, later 1st Earl of Birkenhead, opposed disestablishment

During the 19th century, Nonconformist churches grew rapidly in Wales and eventually the majority of Welsh Christians were Nonconformists, although the Church of England remained the largest single denomination. By the mid-nineteenth century the failure to appoint a Welsh-speaking bishop to any Welsh diocese for 150 years caused real resentment; disestablishment was seen as way to assert national and linguistic identity.

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 Anglicanism 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.

The 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 penned the satirical poem "Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode" containing the memorable retort "Chuck It, Smith".

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.

Disendowment, which was even more controversial than disestablishment, 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 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 began to develop and the Church of England ceased to be a comprehensive national church. Although secularisation of the cathedrals had been suggested, the Church in Wales retained all the ancient church buildings and the privilege of conducting legal marriages without reference to the civil registrar.

Due to the outbreak of World War I in 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. The Church in Wales adopted a written constitution and elected a Governing Body which initially met once a year, but now meets twice annually. The Governing Body has ultimate authority "to approve liturgies, review organizational structures, and secure firm fiscal resources for the mission and ministry of the church". The Church in Wales was one of the first members of the Anglican Communion to adopt synodical government.

Since 1920

Parishes overlapping the border were allowed to vote for either acceding to the Church in Wales or continuing in 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 the former counties of Monmouthshire, Radnorshire and Flintshire remain attached to parishes in the Dioceses of Hereford and Chester and consequently they are part of the Church of England. A complete English rural deanery with the generalised name March containing Oswestry and areas to the north-west of Shrewsbury, was transferred from its historic setting in the Diocese of St Asaph causing correspondence with the civil border there.The churches of St. Mary, Caernarfon, and Llagadwaladr, Anglesey, were transferred from the Diocese of Chester to that of Bangor. Today, the Church in Wales is fully independent of both the state and the Church of England. It is an independent member of the Anglican Communion as are 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. These particularly concern the appointment of women to the episcopate and the provincial recognition of the equal statuses of the Welsh and English languages in all aspects of church life.


Following disestablishment in 1920, the Church in Wales initially 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). In 2014, the attendance in the Church in Wales was 52,021 at Easter which is a decline of approximately 16,000 members since 2007, but an increase from 2013. Also, in 2014, 19 churches were closed or made redundant. Overall, in 2014, the Church in Wales reported 152,000 attendees in its parishes and congregations compared to 105,000 in 2013.

From 2015 statistics, when all "other major acts of worship" are included, the church reported having 206,000 total attendees. "Such additional services, which include civic services, family services, Remembrance, Carol and Christingle services, registered a total attendance of some 206,000 in 2015, compared with 152,000 in 2014."


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

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

  • The Diocese of Bangor
  • The Diocese of St Asaph
  • The Diocese of St David's
  • The Diocese of Llandaff

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

  • The Diocese of Monmouth in 1921
  • The Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in 1923

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 and county of Swansea and the traditional counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire.


Until 1920 the Welsh church was part of the Church of England and under the metropolitical 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 bishop and 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 Barry Morgan. In an archiepiscopal vacancy, the senior Bishop by appointment is acting archbishop.

A former Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, became the first Welsh-born Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated and enthroned as Bishop of Monmouth in 1992 and as Archbishop of Wales in 1999. He was appointed by the Queen (his appointment having been proposed by the Crown Appointments Commission) as Archbishop of Canterbury in July 2002.

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 2013 the Church in Wales officially agreed to the ordination of women as bishops, five years after a previous proposal for their ordination failed in 2008.

In descending order of seniority, the current bench of Welsh bishops is:

  • Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, Bishop of Llandaff
  • John Davies, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon
  • Andrew John, Bishop of Bangor
  • Gregory Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph
  • Richard Pain, Bishop of Monmouth
  • Joanna Penberthy, Bishop of St David's

In cases where a see is vacant due to the death or translation of a bishop, episcopal acts such as ordinations and confirmations are carried out by the archbishop or by another bishop appointed for that purpose by the archbishop.

Assistant bishops

Assistant bishops may be appointed within the Church in Wales. In practice, diocesan assistant bishops have only been appointed within the diocese of the archbishop, in order to assist him with diocesan episcopal functions. The current archbishop has an assistant bishop within the Diocese of Llandaff. From April 2009 the post has been held by David Wilbourne.

A provincial assistant bishop was appointed in 1996 to provide episcopal ministry to congregations which could not accept the ministry of bishops who ordained women. David Thomas held the position for twelve years, retiring in 2008. At that time the Bench of Bishops decided that it would not continue to appoint a specific bishop to minister to those who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women as priests. This point was reiterated by Barry Morgan at the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in September 2013 during the debate on whether or not the Church in Wales would ordain women to the episcopate.

Representative Body

The Representative Body of the Church in Wales 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.

Governing Body

The Governing Body is responsible for decisions that affect the Church’s Faith, Order and Worship. It also has powers to make regulations for the general management and good government of the Church, and the property and affairs thereof. The Governing Body is the supreme legislature of the Church in Wales, broadly speaking the Parliament of the Church in Wales. It usually meets twice a year to receive reports and make decisions on matters brought before it.

Worship and liturgy

The Church in Wales as a whole tends to be predominantly High Church, meaning that many of the traditions are inherited from the Oxford Movement in more rural dioceses such as St David's and Bangor and especially in the industrial parishes of Llandaff and Monmouth. Although the province tends more toward liberal and Anglo-Catholic positions in theology and liturgy, it also has 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.

Book of Common Prayer

The 1984 Book of Common Prayer, with supplemental materials added since 2002, is the current prayer 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 40 years. New rites have also been produced for matrimony, funerals and daily prayer.

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 in 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 balance of Scripture, tradition and reason as authority for faith and practice 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.

Ordination of women

The Church in Wales has ordained women as priests since 1997. Prior to 1997, women were permitted to serve as deacons. In 2013, the church voted to allow women to serve as bishops. In 2016, Canon Joanna Penberthy (Mrs Adrian Legg) was elected the first woman bishop in the church. Mrs Legg was enthroned as bishop of St David's on 11 February 2017.

Same-sex unions and LGBT clergy

Beginning in the 1980s, the Church in Wales embarked on an increasingly open stand on various issues including economic justice, the ordination of women and inclusion of homosexual people. In some areas, the church establishment has faced resistance from congregations. In 2005, the church allowed gay priests to enter into civil partnerships. Currently, the church does allow services "to celebrate [a same-sex] civil marriage with a service of prayer and thanksgiving."

In 2012, Archbishop Barry Morgan endorsed civil marriage for same-sex couples. Later, Archbishop Morgan also supported allowing same-sex marriages in the church. Currently, "the Church in Wales is much more liberal on this issue [than the Church of England]" and is discussing the possibility of blessing or performing same-sex marriages. Within that discussion, more than half of respondents supported same-sex marriages; the Dioceses of Llandaff and St Asaph overwhelmingly supported the blessing of same-sex marriages. The Diocese of St. Asaph has hosted conferences and services for the inclusion of LGBT people. The church also endorsed an LGBT film aimed at encouraging acceptance and support for LGBT people.

In 2016, as a result of the majority support for same-sex couples, but not a 2/3 majority needed to create a same-sex marriage ceremony, the church's Bench of Bishops voted for an approach to affirm same-sex relationships and to offer celebratory prayer services for same-sex marriages following a civil ceremony. The service, in Form One, gives God thanks "for [the two people] who have found such love and companionship in each other, that it has led them to dedicate their lives in support of one another."

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. Because of the Anglo-Catholic dominance, relations with the Free Churches (formerly known during establishment times as Nonconformists), ecumenical progress has been slower in Wales than in England. A covenant (with church unity as an ultimate goal) was signed by the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the United Reformed Church, and some Baptist churches in 1982 under the title of Enfys ("rainbow").

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