HAVING conducted his last service as Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies can finally enjoy a retirement he had planned almost four years ago.

The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon had been intending to retire after nearly a decade in the post until his fellow bishops elected him to succeed Archbishop Barry Morgan as the leader of the Church in Wales in September 2017.

“To be honest I had intended to retire a little earlier but I was elected as Archbishop and I thought I ought to fulfill that role for at least three years. I had planned with my family to retire,” said the 68-year-old who is married to Jo, a nurse.

“The line I have always taken is that if someone asks you to do something and they think you have the qualities to do the job. you agree to let your name go forward.

"At the time this happened I had thought of retiring but sufficient numbers of people had said I should let my name go forward so I agreed to allow that to happen.”

Though the former criminal law solicitor, from Newport, has effectively led the church for three and a half years, he feels his tenure has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic which has shut down so much activity, especially communal life, for more than a year.

“I had thought, by now, we might be out of the worst phase of the pandemic and I could have a proper celebration on retirement but it might be something that will have to happen after I’ve formally retired,” he said the reverend on the impact on his farewells.

The pandemic struck in the year in which the Church in Wales was due to celebrate its centenary marking its disestablishment from the Church of England, which remains the state church in England, and its formation as a church within its own right in the Anglican community.

“Our centenary year was really washed away but we did launch our centenary appeal which is supporting homeless people in Wales for Housing Justice Cymru and people in South Sudan through Christian Aid so we are reaching out,” he said.

He doesn’t however feel despondent that a year of great personal and professional celebrations has been lost to a pandemic that has claimed countless lives globally and disrupted so much of what has been taken for granted as normal life.

“Some people have said the whole Covid-19 situation was a visitation from God on a wicked world, I don’t believe that at all.

“Disease is part and parcel of our world, I’m afraid, not something sent from above to make us suffer.

"But God is to be found in those who reach out to the suffering, and bring them comfort and relief and support and kindness and gentleness and there is much of that around.”

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Neither does the Archbishop (whose wife worked the new Grange Hospital's ICU in Cwmbran for part of the pandemic) have much sympathy for those who ignored public health restrictions. 

Last year police entered a church in Cardiff, that isn’t part of the Church in Wales, to stop a service held despite a ban on gatherings, including communal worship, in place at the time.

“If gathering together for public worship is putting those there at risk, and potentially others who they may come into contact with, then it’s thoroughly irresponsible.

"If the medical advice is the disease can be spread by public gatherings, then you shouldn’t do it - and I dare to even quote scripture that says the authorities are there for good governance, not to make life difficult.”

While Covid-19 has disrupted the church, the Archbishop is keen to look at the opportunities for it to better connect with people and address an area in which he acknowledges it is failing, with just under one per cent of the Welsh population attending an Anglican church.

The cleric’s final service held at Brecon Cathedral last Sunday was live-streamed – as many services have been since the first lockdown last year. But he doesn’t accept that changing the timing of church services to reflect that people may no longer be able to devote Sunday mornings to worship, is compromising principles to fit with the modern world.

“It doesn’t always have to be on a Sunday morning – what’s wrong with Sunday afternoons, evenings or midweek? People’s lives are very complicated nowadays if we simply expect people to come at a time and to places to suit us it’s not going to get us very far, it’s certainly not getting us very far at the moment.

“If you haven’t had the opportunity to engage with a worshipping community, with a worshipping family, frankly because of the circumstances of your life, simply for the church to say, ‘Sorry we’re going to do it our way, because that’s the only way we’ve ever done it, take it or leave it’, I don’t think that’s very welcoming and frankly I don’t think it’s the approach Jesus himself ever took.

“He went to the people he was called to serve, rather than expecting them to come when it was convenient to him. We’ve got to be outward looking, outward reaching.

“That’s not pandering to modern social customs or wishes it’s being open, welcoming and faithful.”

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Services at convenient times isn’t the only issue on which he thinks the church can reach out to those who may have felt excluded and which it is often seen as at odds with the modern world.

Though there is no proposal to allow same sex couples to marry in the Church in Wales, the Archbishop does support it offering a service of blessing, an issue the church’s governing body will discuss later this year.

“I have long supported offering services of blessing,” he says ­— when asked if his support for blessings stops short of supporting the idea of gay marriage within the church, he acknowledges the issue still has potential to divide opinions within the church.

“My own personal view at the moment is it should be one step at a time. There are people within the church who for very sound reasons have some reservations about it.

“I think if we can move forward slowly, carefully and lovingly reaching out to people who are in same sex relationships, closing the door and saying no is just not frankly acceptable.

"I think we need to move forward slowly and carefully and blessings would be that first step we want to take.”