Church in Wales

From Academic Kids

The Church in Wales is a member Church of the Anglican Communion, consisting of six dioceses in Wales.


From the Middle Ages until 1920, the Welsh dioceses were included in the Province of Canterbury (under the Archbishop of Canterbury). This continued after the Reformation, and thus the Welsh dioceses were part of the Church of England, and the state church in Wales was the Church of England. (It is important to note that since the time of Henry VIII Wales had been absorbed into England as a legal entity and this has only been changed in the later twentieth century; thus Welsh Disestablishment was in one way a way of declaring a national identity.) During the 19th century the non-conformist churches grew rapidly in Wales. Eventually, the majority of Welsh Christians were Nonconformist, although Anglicans remained the largest single religious denomination.

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 to separate the Anglican Church in Wales from the Church of England. The Bill was fiercely resisted by the Conservatives, and blocked in the House of Lords, being eventually passed by the use of the Parliament Act.

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. (This included limitations as well as advantages, for example, priests of the Church of England were barred from sitting in the House of Commons, but this would no longer aply in Wales.) The Church in Wales would become independent of the state.

Disendowment, which was even more controversial, meant that the endowments of the Church in Wales would be partially confiscated and redistributed to the University of Wales and local authorities. Endowments before 1662 would be confiscated, those later would be left. This was justified on the theory that the pre-1662 endowments were to a true National Church of the whole population, and hence belonged to the people as a whole rather than the Church. This reasoning was hotly contested. The date 1662 was that of the Act of Uniformity following the Restoration; a case could be made that this was the point at which the Church of England ceased, or began to cease, to be a truly comprehensive national church and non-conformity began to develop.

The coming into effect of the Welsh Church Act 1914 was however delayed by the outbreak of the First World War, and under a further Act of 1919 left the Church in Wales somewhat better off than the 1914 Act. Disestablishment came into effect in 1920. This meant that, unlike in England, Wales no longer had a state Church.

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 exactly the same as the English-Welsh border.

The Church in Wales is as a result 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. Like all Anglican churches, it recognizes the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who does not however have any formal authority outside England.

The Church in Wales adopted its name rather by accident. The Welsh Church Act 1914 had referred throughout to "the Church in Wales", the phrase apparently being used to indicate the part of the Church [of England] in Wales. A Convention of the Welsh Church in 1920 considered what name to use, and tended to favour "the Church of Wales", but there were fears that adopting a name different from that given by the Act might cause serious legal problems. Given the situation, it did not seem sensible to invite even more problems at that point, and so "the Church in Wales" was allowed to stand.

Following disestablishment, the Church in Wales ironically did rather better than the nonconformist churches, which have suffered decline in the twentieth century.

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

In 1920, two more dioceses were created:

Monmouth was created from the eastern part of Llandaff diocese, largely corresponding to the traditional county of Monmouthshire. Swansea and Brecon was created from the eastern part of the St David's diocese, largely corresponding to what is now the City & County of Swansea and the traditional counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire.

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 seeking a new bishop, representatives of the other five dioceses in Wales and all the other Bishops of the Church in Wales. The Archbishop of Wales, the head of the Church in Wales, is elected from the six diocesan bishops and continues as a diocesan bishop after his election. Currently the Church in Wales does not consecrate women as bishops.

Diocesan Bishops

  • The Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan - Bishop of Llandaff and Archbishop of Wales
  • The Right Revd John Davies - Bishop of St Asaph
  • The Right Revd Anthony Crockett - Bishop of Bangor
  • The Right Revd Carl Cooper - Bishop of St David's
  • The Right Revd Dr Dominic Walker - Bishop of Monmouth
  • The Right Revd Anthony Pierce - Bishop of Swansea and Brecon

Provincial Assistant Bishop

  • The Right Revd David Thomas

In 1996, the Church in Wales approved the Ordination of Women, and a seventh bishop was appointed (the Provincial Assistant Bishop) to provide pastoral care for those who could not in good conscience accept the ordination of women. As in the Church of England, there are now many women priests and deacons in active ministry in the Church.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury (The Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams) is the first Welsh Bishop since the Reformation to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was elected Bishop of Monmouth in 1991 and then elected 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 former Bishop of Reading, the Right Revd Dr Dominic Walker, and was succeeded as Archbishop of Wales by the Bishop of Llandaff, the Right Revd Dr Barry Morgan.

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 (like salaries) and pensions. The Governing Body functions as a kind of parliament (similar to the Church of England General Synod) for the Church.

Greater detail on the structure of the Church can be found on the Church in Wales website (

Church traditions

While the Church of England has a broad spread of Christian traditions, 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 Roman Catholic church tend to get the most emphasis. This is perhaps a reaction against the Protestant traditions which dominate Welsh Christianity as a whole. Indeed, Anglo-Catholicism (the Anglican tradition most inclined towards Catholicism) is particularly strong among parishes in industrial south Wales. However there are also many thriving Evangelical parishes within the Church in Wales.

While the Church in Wales as a whole has tended to lag behind the Church of England in accepting developments such as the Ordination of Women, the Church in Wales does not seem to have suffered very much from the rifts and partisan disputes that have affected the Church of England in recent years.


  • D T W Price, A History of the Church in Wales in the Twentieth Century (Church in Wales Publications, 1990)
  • Welsh Church Act, 1914 (4 & 5 Geo. 5 c. 91)de:Church in Wales



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