Church in Wales’ roles in coronation questioned
More than a century after church and state were separated in Wales, some are questioning why the Church in Wales is playing a significant role in King Charles’ coronation.
In 1920 the Church in Wales came into being following legislation that split it off from the Church of England.
While the Church of England remained the official state church, headed by the monarch, the Church in Wales no longer had a formal connection with the state and, while still part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, was no longer subject to the Church of England’s ecclesiastical laws and was a stand-alone institution in its own right.
Today the Church of England has two archbishops and 24 bishops sitting in the House of Lords, demonstrating the degree to which it and the state are entwined.
The Church in Wales has no representatives in Parliament. Yet the Archbishop of Wales, Andrew John, will be taking part in the coronation.
The Cross of Wales, a new processional cross presented by King Charles as a centenary gift to the Church in Wales, will lead the coronation procession at Westminster Abbey.
In what is seen as a significant ecumenical gesture, the Cross of Wales incorporates a relic of the True Cross, the personal gift of Pope Francis to the King to mark the coronation.
Inscribed with words from St David’s last sermon, the Cross of Wales was blessed by Archbishop John at Holy Trinity Church, Llandudno last month.
Welcoming the gift on behalf of the Church in Wales, the Archbishop said: “We are honoured that His Majesty has chosen to mark our centenary with a cross that is both beautiful and symbolic. Its design speaks to our Christian faith, our heritage, our resources and our commitment to sustainability. We are delighted too that its first use will be to guide Their Majesties into Westminster Abbey at the coronation service.”
In a joint statement, Archbishop John and Wales’ four other bishops said: “The coronation of Their Majesties The King and The Queen is a significant and happy occasion for our nation and for the Commonwealth and we know people from across the world will be joining us in praying for our new King and Queen.
“We send our warmest congratulations to them and we ask that God will bless them with the true gifts of power and authority: courage to speak the truth, wisdom to share insight and experience, and a servanthood expressed in humility and a commitment to others.
“We give thanks too for the King’s long and dedicated service as Prince of Wales, for the people and causes he supported and the friendship he extended, not least to our churches and congregations.
“May Their Majesties have a long and happy reign.”
Special services and other events to mark the coronation are being held across Wales to commemorate the coronation.
Some other churches are taking a different approach, however.
The Union of Welsh Independents represents congregations meeting in around 350 chapels across Wales with a membership of around 20,000 worshippers.
Alun Lenny, a leader in his local independent chapel near Carmarthen who is also a Plaid Cymru councillor, said: “Our congregations are independent of each other as well as being independent of the state.
“I am not aware of any involvement with the coronation on the part of our congregations.
“While I understand why Welsh bishops have not sat in the House of Lords since 1920, this does create a constitutional imbalance in that English bishops can vote on legislation which also affects Wales.
“There’s an anomaly in King Charles’ position. He is Defender of the Faith, meaning the very specific set of beliefs and laws of the Church of England, including the oath to uphold the Protestant succession to the throne, but also made it clear when he was the Prince of Wales that he wanted to be the Defender of All Faiths. What Charles has said he believes and what he’ll have to say on oath seem incompatible.
“The coronation is obviously of historic significance because no one under the age of 70-something remembers the Queen’s coronation. While I would not wish the monarch ill, I would not stand in his shoes for the world.
“As a nonconformist, I uphold, as Thomas Jefferson said, a wall between church and state. I say this because one will inevitably compromise the other at some stage.”
A spokeswoman for the Church in Wales said: “The Church in Wales is part of the world-wide Anglican Communion. The Archbishop represents the Church in Wales at the coronation and will be present with other Archbishops representing their own churches, alongside numerous independent and free churches.
“He is honoured to take part. We are also honoured that the Cross of Wales, the King’s gift to the Church in Wales, will be used to lead the coronation procession at Westminster Abbey.”
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