It’s David for Wales

ON 20 SEPTEMBER DAVID and Rosemary like many of us in this part of Britain were grieving over the decision of the Governing Body to amend our constitution to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood. David was a member of the Governing Body and had read with interest the pastoral guidelines issued by the Bishops which had promised the appointment of a Provincial Assistant Bishop. His late father had been Bishop of Swansea and Brecon and David and Rosemary decided that his episcopal insignia should be given to whoever was appointed to the new post.

A few weeks later they found that it would not have to travel far! A recorded delivery letter arrived asking David to become just that Provincial Assistant Bishop. It can hardly have been an easy decision to take for the task facing him is indeed daunting. But on 2 November he sent his reply, saying “yes” and on Saturday 21 December at 1.00pm he will be consecrated Bishop in St. Asaph Cathedral.

Though not his first visit to St. Asaph it will be the first time he has entered the cathedral since he was ordained priest there on Trinity Sunday 1968. Then, the ceremony was punctuated by the cries of their baby; this year it will be a young grandchild who adds the voice of innocence to the proceedings.

The appointment of David Thomas has been widely welcomed by members of Credo Cymru and other faithful people in Wales. He certainly meets the criteria laid down by us beforehand that the bishop should be someone in conscience unable to accept women priests and someone clearly associated with the opposition over a period of time. David was in at the beginning of Credo Cymru and elected its first chairman. It was his firm but gentle leadership which led to the defeat of the proposed legislation in 1994.

But his opposition runs further back than that. When the Governing Body asked the parishes and dioceses to discuss the issue in 1992 the Doctrine Commission produced documents to help in the discussion. David Thomas rose to his feet in the Governing Body to protest that additional material which he and other members of the Commission had produced had not been circulated. It was hardly the action to endear him to the establishment! Indeed, it was perhaps because of this that he was so surprised to receive that recorded delivery letter. But it is an example of how this calm and eirenic person can stand firm against all the odds when he knows it is necessary. This bodes well for the way he will minister to us over the next few years.

At 54 he is young enough not to be seen as providing terminal care for a dying breed; and indeed young enough to cope with the rigours of travel that this job will entail.

After serving his title at Hawarden, David became lecturer and then chaplain at St. Michael’s College, Llandaff. In 1975 he moved to Oxford to become vice-principal of St. Stephen’s House under David Hope and returned in 1982 as Principal. After three years as Vicar of Chepstow (this swift return to England had also been seen as another “unforgivable sin” which would cost him the purple!), his final move before this one was in 1987 when he became Vicar of Newton in Swansea. He has also given invaluable service to the Church in Wales Liturgical Commission of which he was secretary from 1970–75.

This potted biography tells us much of what is in his favour as PAB. He knows his way around the establishment and how to “work the system”; he has been involved at the highest level in areas of doctrine and liturgical reform; he understands the crucial needs in the area of vocations and training for the ministry; and coming straight from being a parish priest he will know and understand the needs of clergy and people throughout the province in the months and years ahead.

Already there are signs of clear and original thinking on how to work out the nature of this new post. His longstanding friendship with Eric Kemp, David Hope, Edwin Barnes, John Hind, and Geoffrey Rowell will give him plenty of episcopal models to look to and plenty of wisdom to draw on. He has already arranged to meet with the Provincial Council of Credo Cymru and with concerned priests in at least two dioceses in the next few weeks before his episcopal ordination next month, and early in the year, before the “ordinations” on 11/12 January, plans a whistle stop tour of the province to meet as many people as possible.

We rejoice in the gift of God to us in David Thomas; we wish him well; and we commend him and Rosemary to the prayers of you all especially on what is still observed as St. Thomas’ Day in this province.

Let the last word be his own, as an illustration of his firm grasp on the realities of the situation and his quiet sense of humour. When asked about whether he would be given a title like his counterparts in England he said he thought it unlikely; there were therefore two possibilities: Assistant Bishop to the Province and Provincial Assistant Bishop. An abbreviation of the former gave Abp, so he felt that it might be wise to avoid that. On the whole he welcomed the abbreviation PAB especially when one thought of the meaning of the Welsh word “Pab”!*

*For the benefit of those without access to a Welsh/English dictionary the translation is “Pope”!

Alan Rabjohns is the Vicar of St. Saviour’s Splott, in the diocese of Llandaff