Anglican-Methodist unity urged on

06 September 2013

METHODIST CONFERENCE

Sharing a platform: the Archbishop Welby with the current vice-president of the Methodist Conference, Dr Daleep Mukarji, at the Methodist Conference in July this year.

Sharing a platform: the Archbishop Welby with the current vice-president of the Methodist Conference, Dr Daleep Mukarji, at the Methodist Conf...

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 "eucharistic sharing".

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 difficult."

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 partner".

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."

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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 network."

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?

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