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Defective view of episcopacy in Anglican-Methodist initiatives

by
11 July 2014

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From Professor Alan Swanson

Sir, - The Revd Matthew Duckett ( Letters, 4 July) correctly says that the Methodist Church has developed a theology of ministry very different from that of historic Catholic Churches.

He could have gone further, and noted that, when the three main strands of Methodism in Britain came together in 1932, they agreed a doctrinal basis that was included in a Deed of Union.

This says, among other things, that "The Methodist Church holds the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and consequently believes that no priesthood exists which belongs exclusively to a particular order or class of men," and "For the sake of Church Order and not because of any priestly virtue inherent in the office the Ministers of The Methodist Church are set apart by ordination to the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments."

It is no wonder, as Mr Duckett notes, that many members of the Methodist Church resist the proposal that it should adopt the historic episcopate.

Integrity seems to require that the above statements be explicitly disowned before any Methodist ministers take part in a rite that Anglicans would regard as an ordination to an exclusive priesthood (the historic episcopate).

So far as I know, this has not been done (and there would be legal difficulties). If any arguments have been developed to show why they should no longer be taken to mean what they say, the results have not been made generally available.

ALAN SWANSON
12 Holmwood Gardens
Wallington
Surrey SM6 0HN
 

From the Revd Bruce Bridgewood

Sir, - I welcome the Revd Matthew Duckett's taking the bull by the horns over the Anglican-Methodist Joint Implementation Commission, and pointing out that, despite everything, we do not have an equivalent ministry.

Methodists derive their ministries from Conference, Anglicans from the historic episcopate. He refreshingly introduces some theology and some ecclesiology into the discussion, and ventures that episcopacy is not just of the bene esse of the Church but of its actual plene esse.

I am sure he is right. And, as he also makes the point that no amount of wishful thinking gets round this, episcopal ordination has to be supplied. The way forward is not to pretend that something exists when it doesn't. As I said in a previous letter, "conditional ordination" for Methodist ministers strikes me as the best bet all round.

BRUCE BRIDGEWOOD
15 Temple Orchard
High Wycombe, HP13 6PH
 

From the Revd Patrick Bryan

Sir, - Professor Peter Howdle's article "Weighing the cost of positive steps" (Comment, 27 June) raises the same old questions of principle. I believe the argument goes back to the Savoy Conference of 1661 and before.

For a time, non-episcopally ordained Methodist ministers will be accepted as validly ordained priests by the Church of England; then the door will be closed, and all future ministers must be ordained by a bishop in the apostolic succession. It makes no more sense than it ever did.

For ever afterwards, all who are so inclined can rightly treat episcopal ordination as optional, and those at the other end of the doctrinal spectrum will check the episcopal pedigree of any minister they have to deal with.

Honestly, if personal episcopacy and the apostolic succession are optional, let us get rid of a layer of management. If they are of the esse or the bene esse of the Church, let us accept the fact. For me, the fact that it has been the practice of most of the Church through most of its life is enough.

We should ask what personal episcopacy and the apostolic succession bring to the party. They are no guarantee of a good and holy ministry, or of usefulness to God. I would guess that Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were both of more use to God than many validly ordained priests. I value having been ordained by a bishop in the apostolic succession, not simply because it provides an assurance that I am validly ordained, but, above all, that I am in a line and web of ministry which stretches continuously through time and space back to the apostles and Christ.

It is a warranty that my Church and my ministry were not, despite what Rome may say, suddenly made up some time in recent centuries. And, if it could be proved to the Church of England that we are not in that line and web, I would happily accept conditional ordination if the Church of England decided and arranged to proceed thus. After all, St Chad, the first bishop of my home diocese, accepted conditional consecration when doubts were cast on his orders.

PATRICK BRYAN
12 Derwent Road, Palmer's Cross
Wolverhampton WV6 9ES

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