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Bill would assert interchangeability

16 May 2014

PAUL HARRON/CHURCH OF IRELAND

"A truly significant moment": the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Heather Morris, addresses the Synod

"A truly significant moment": the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Heather Morris, addresses the Synod

Unity with Methodists

A BILL that would assert and provide for the interchangeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland was moved by the Dean of Cork, the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, and seconded by the Bishop of Cashel, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows.

The Bill had its origins in a 2002 covenant between the two Churches which recognised that the ordained ministries of each were equally given by God, and looked forward "to the time when our ministries can be fully interchangeable, and our Churches visibly united." The covenant also acknowledgedthat personal, collegial, and communal oversight was embodied and practised in both Churches.

Working groups were established by both Churches, and produced a Statement of Agreed Principles on the subject for the Synod in 2010, followed by the Methodist Conference a year later. The Bill gives legislative effect to interchangeability and shared episcope.

The polities of both Churches are recognised as distinct, including the threefold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon in the Church of Ireland; and the recognition of collegial, communal, and personal episcope in the person of the Methodist President, and his or her predecessors and successors in the Methodist Church in Ireland, so that interchangeability may now be permitted to take effect.

The recognition of sufficient consonance in the threefold ministry of each is such that the logic of the Bill is not to seek to "reordain" or "further consecrate" those already considered to be so, but to enable an exchange of ministry to happen in practice without the presumption that a Methodist presbyter is de facto a Church of Ireland priest, or that a Church of Ireland bishop is de facto a president of the Methodist Church.

Instead, recognising the validity of each other, an ordained minister in either denomination may come under the discipline and oversight of the other for the exercise of ministry, thus allowing participation in the liturgies and rites of the other Church.

The Bill also provides for the participation of two bishops of the Church of Ireland in all future installations and consecrations of the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, whose presidents, past or present, will be entitled to participate in the laying on of hands in the ordination of bishops and priests in the C of I.

Proposing the Bill, the Dean of Cork, the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, said that it was not, as was the ultimate goal of the covenant, a merger into full organic unity, but a crucial step along the way.

The threefold ministry of the Church of Ireland had not been compromised, he said. "Those who may hold a more traditional 'pipeline' view of episcopacy and episcope ought to be greatly reassured by the involvement of at least two of our bishops in all future installations and consecration of Methodist Presidents - just as Methodists who may fear that this is in some way a 're-absorption' back into Anglicanism ought to take reassurance from the involvement of the President in Church of Ireland ordinations."

Neither Church had done a "solo run" on the developments towards interchangeability, as both had maintained involvement with the relevant inter-Church commissions. "Therefore," he said, "whilst this initiative is a local arrangement, confined to this island, it has received significant international attention and endorsement, and, I would suggest, may well bring new life to the international scene", he said.

The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Dr Heather Morris, told the Synod: "This is a truly significant momentin the history of both traditions. Now the challenge is that we allow our traditions to help each other."

She said that she was grateful to those who had voiced their hesitations, and thanked them for their honesty and integrity.

The Bill was passed by the required two-thirds majority.

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