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Covenant follow-up challenges priests and wafers

MILLIONS of churchgoers will face big changes in Sunday worship - in the way they receive communion, and in who presides, among other things - if the Church of England and the Methodist Church draw closer together, a report suggests.

The Joint Implementation Commission set up to monitor and promote the Anglican-Methodist Covenant for England published its interim report* this week.

Two years ago, the Church of England's General Synod agreed by 91 per cent, and the Methodist Conference by 76 per cent, to approve the Covenant. Now the Joint Implementation Commission (JIC), for which the two Churches also voted, has proposed radical changes in the way services are conducted and in church leadership.

It suggests that if British Methodists decide to accept bishops, then Church of England bishops should consecrate them.

The JIC acknowledges that the "unfamiliarity" of changes it proposes in the eucharist would be "very disturbing".

It suggests that Methodists, who traditionally use individual cups during their communion services should follow the Church of England use of a single chalice. It also suggests that the Church of England should consider giving up the use of individual communion wafers, in favour of a single loaf.

Both Churches should agree that only "the fruit of the vine" should be used in the eucharist. But Methodists would continue to use grape juice or wine from which the alcohol had been removed.

On a "sensitive ecumenical issue", it says: "Our two Churches should unite around the practice of consuming the sacred elements either after communion or after the service."

There is, it says, no likelihood of an early agreement on lay or diaconal presidency, which takes place in the Methodist Church. But it argues that the Church of England has already accepted that such celebrations are valid in other Churches where they are the practice ("the traditional Anglican view", it says), by stating in the Anglican-Methodist Covenant that the sacraments in the Methodist Church are "duly administered and celebrated, and in the Reuilly Joint Declaration with French Lutherans and Reformed.

The Church of England is  expected to continue to disallow lay or diaconal presidency "for the foreseeable future". But it suggests that the needs of mission could still lead to the Church of England to accepting it. "If people see that choice that they have as one between maintaining the traditional Anglican position and the adequate provision of the eucharist, then the temptation to move towards dispensing with the traditional Anglican discipline will be a very strong one."

The Churches had asked the JIC to consider, as a priority, whether clergy from each Church could fully take the place of their counterparts in the other Church.

"Interchangeability is a crucial issue in ecumenical relations. It represents an incremental step in making visible the unity of the Church in Christ. For many Christians, who long for a greater visible unity between the separate churches, the unrestricted interchangeability of ministry is the litmus test of whether ordinations performed by their Church are fully accepted by a partner Church," the JIC report says.

At the moment, ministers in local ecumenical projects had a shared ministry, as far as the Church of England was concerned. But for Methodists this was an interchangeable ministry.

The two Churches had different understandings of deacons, but should work together to "discern" their ministry.

Covenanting was a slow, frustrating process, but there was no going back, the JIC said. The partners must not act alone. "Too much decision-making - at all levels and in all denominations - exhibits a blindness (in other contexts it would be called racism!), a total absence of awareness of other brothers and sisters in Christ." The partners would gain a great deal, but only if they faced risk and pain.

"If there is no cost involved, questions must be asked about the integrity of the Covenant commitment," the report says.

*In the Spirit of the Covenant: Interim report (2005) of the Joint Implementation Commission is available at: www.cofe.anglican.org/about/gensynod/Agendas


 

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