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
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.
12 Holmwood Gardens
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.
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
12 Derwent Road, Palmer's Cross
Wolverhampton WV6 9ES