TEN years since the signing of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant,
it is time for the two Churches to overcome their "inertia" and
move towards "institutional" unity, a new report by the Covenant's
Joint Implementation Commission (JIC) says.
The Covenant, which was signed in the presence of the Queen a
decade ago, committed the two Churches "to overcom[ing] the
remaining obstacles to organic unity", and "bring[ing] about closer
collaboration" (News, 7 November 2003). This was to include
welcoming each other's baptised members, and encouraging forms of
In a foreword to a report published today, Behold the
Servants of the Lord: Assessing ten years of living in the
Covenant, the co-chairs of the JIC, the Bishop of Coventry, Dr
Christopher Cocksworth, and a former Vice-President of the
Methodist Conference, Professor Peter Howdle, acknowledge that the
implementation of the Covenant has been, "for some, painfully slow.
. . Clearly some issues which were difficult to resolve over 40
years ago are no easier now, and sometimes seem more
The report says that there has been "little sense of urgency" in
developing "structures of joint working, decision-making, and
oversight" between the two Churches. It challenges both Churches to
work harder to achieve institutional unity. "We cannot have
spiritual unity of the Church without having to deal with matters
of visible unity in an institutional sense."
The report highlights a number of areas of difficulty in
achieving institutional unity, including: the "distinct inertia"
displayed by the two Churches' institutions; the "mostly
incompatible" ecclesial boundaries of the two Churches; and, in
areas such as theological education, a "pattern . . . of decisions
. . . being made by each Church with apparently little reference to
the effect that these decisions will have on the Covenant
Progress on the JIC's proposal, made in the 2008 report
Embracing the Covenant, that the President of the
Methodist Conference should be consecrated as a bishop (News,
27 June 2008), has "proved very difficult", the report says.
"It is clear that in the last five years, the Methodist Church has
resisted considering this issue."
The failure of the General Synod in November to pass legislation
allowing women to become bishops presents a "major obstacle",
because, in the Methodist Church "all posts are open equally to
women and men, as a matter of policy based on theological
conviction." There is also the issue of "reciprocity. . . If the
Methodist Church is being asked to receive the historic episcopate
into its own system, it has not been altogether clear what
corresponding action is expected of the Church of England in
return, if any."
The report acknowledges that there will have been
"disappointment" at the "lack of progress" towards "the
interchangeability of diaconal, presbyteral, and episcopal
ministries". It encourages both churches to seize "the
opportunities for shared ministry within current ecclesiological
and legal frameworks", particularly the sharing of lay ministry.
"It is significant that local training of lay ministry is delivered
jointly in a number of places. It would be unfortunate if this
should decrease with the development of the Methodist learning
The Archbishop of Canterbury told the Methodist Conference in
July that division between Anglicanism and Methodism was "inspired
more than anything by Anglican pride and episcopal status". Visible
unity "releases treasure", he said (News, 12 July).
Question of the week: Are you in favour of closer links with
the Methodist Church?