Church Diversity on the Increase

Sep 25, 2003 06:35 PM EDT

A MAJOR survey of the churches in Wales reveals a multi-ethnic faith community.

The Church Diversity Index shows that the five largest denominations now exist alongside 20th Century traditions such as the Assemblies of God and the Apostolic Church.

Korean, Arabic, and Chinese churches are also now well-established.

The Rev Elfed Godding, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance Wales, which commissioned the survey said, "Although there has certainly been a decline in church attendance in past decades, there has also been church growth which has partly found expression in the development of many new denominations.

"Often profoundly involved with the local community and welfare service provision, many of the new churches have a relatively young age profile and extend across the different ethnic groups that now enrich Wales's Christian heritage."

The Rev. Sam Wong, of the Chinese Church in Wales said, "Many people seem to think that the Churches of Wales are just Celtic or Anglo-Saxon.

"Twenty-first century Wales is, however, a multi-cultural nation with a multi-cultural church.

"The Church Diversity Index is of great significance for minority ethnic churches because it helps government, public bodies and the media to see the Church that is actually there rather than the Church that convention and tradition suggests should be there."

Janet Ryder, AM, said, "There is a real need for the Assembly and other public bodies to engage with the full spectrum of church life in Wales, the new and the ethnic minority denominations as well as our historic churches."

THERE will be a taste of spirits and the spiritual for the thousands of revellers who flock to the Welsh capital for a night in the bars and clubs when Christmas party-time hits.

For in the midst of those drinking and dancing will be Wendy Sanderson, a 26-year-old passionate about life, music and God.

Known as Sister Wendy to her colleagues in the Church Army - an Anglican mission agency whose alumni include former hostage Terry Waite - she will seek to act as a chaplain to anyone whose Christmas celebrations seem starched of joy.

Wendy's full-time job will be leading a group of volunteers in Cardiff's nightspots in a project Club Network for the next five years.

She said, "You have got thousands of people coming through Cardiff every weekend, and I am sure not one of them isn't going through something. We are there for the crisis if there is one on the night, or to hold their hair up when they throw up."

Her mission is to give "non-judgmental love and support", but the former shoe-shop manager believes churches and nightclubs already have more in common than the people who go to them might realise.

She said, "We are not going in to shut down the culture. We are going to work with club staff and management.

"When you look at the influence of drugs and the hunger for the ultimate high, it kind of all links in. I do believe there is a hunger for spirituality and God.

"Sometimes religion has turned off people and hurt people, but I think although young people are not interested in religion, I don't think the hunger to know God has gone."

The months leading up to Christmas will be spent recruiting and training volunteers to deal with the challenges and dangers of ministering on the streets.

She said, "Someone said to me the other day, what would you do if someone took five Es? Would you help them? And the answer is 'yes'.

"Why turn someone away? I don't believe Jesus would have done, and I don't believe God does. God never turns me away, so why should I?"

Her own faith developed around the age of 19 when she was living in Oldham.

"I decided to sort the God thing out for myself," she said. "I wanted to find out how real God was. I couldn't just rely on my mum and dad's faith."

During this time, Wendy became convinced that there was a connection between what she prayed about and the events taking place around her.

She said, "It was small things - but it was so many of the small things! As far as I was concerned, miracles were happening in my life."

As her convictions deepened, her job became less and less satisfying.

"That's when the frustration got a hold on me," she explained. "A lot of the people I worked with wanted to know why I was a Christian and I didn't believe in sex before marriage and things like that. I felt quite torn because a shop floor wasn't the place to talk about religion. The only thing I thought I could do was be a vicar or a nun, and I didn't want to be either."

When she heard of the Church Army, she believed she had found a vocation she could pursue. Founded in 1882, the organisation has historically been committed to preventing Christianity, and the Anglican church in particular, from being a middle-class club.

Wendy spent three years at the group's training college where she combined theological studies with placements at a young offender's institute and evangelistic missions.

Tomorrow Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan will attend Wendy's licensing service at St John's Church in the city centre.

Wendy describes Dr Morgan as "absolutely fabulous".

Although the type of ministry she is involved in is more frequently associated with nondenominational groups such as Youth for Christ, she claims to feel at home in the Anglican communion.

Wendy has no plans to seek ordination. She explained, "I do feel I'm able to do this work because I'm not ordained. I'm working with churches rather than being tied to one."

While she has no interest in donning clerical garb, she considers bringing a message of hope to her generation is a task of utter urgency.

"My faith isn't about religion," she said. "It's about God. I believe it's about giving unconditionally and loving each other and doing what you can. I believe I need to do something and get off my backside. It's not about saying, 'I need to save the world'. It's about looking at individuals and saying, 'Do you know something that can help ease the pain?' And I do."

THE ARCHBISHOP of Wales Barry Morgan has welcomed the appointment of Sister Wendy Sanderson.

He said, "I am looking forward very much to being at the service to license Wendy Sanderson as she begins her new ministry with the Church Army here in Cardiff. This is an exciting project and it is good that the church is going out into the nightclubs to meet people.

"This will show that the church is much more than a building - it is about real people and the ways in which Christ speaks to them in their daily lives - at work, at home, and even in the middle of the nightlife of Cardiff. I wish Wendy every success."