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Synod: Reconciliation of ministries back on Synod’s to-do list

21 November 2014

Anglican-Methodist Covenant


Reflecting on episcopacy, Methodism, and ministerial recognition: the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth

Reflecting on episcopacy, Methodism, and ministerial recognition: the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth

A MOTION carried by the Synod on Tuesday afternoon endorsed the three recommendations made in the recent Anglican-Methodist report, and began to put them into effect.

These recommendations concern the bringing forward of proposals for episcopacy in the Methodist Church, for its recognition by the Church of England, and for the reconciliation of ministries; for fuller collaboration and shared planning by both Churches; and for the setting up of a Joint Covenant Advocacy and Monitoring Group.

In the introductory presentation, Professor Peter Howdle, the Methodist who co-chairs, with the Bishop of Coventry, the Joint Implementation Commission (JIC) for the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, illustrated how the two Churches had changed over the past 25 years.

As an undergraduate, his wife had not received communion in her Oxford college chapel because there was "an unease" about her being a Methodist. "Happily, 25 years later, she was invited to preach in the college chapel," he said, "and it was the natural assumption that she would not only receive communion but assist to administer it by taking the chalice."

The Covenant had been signed ten years later. And ten years after that, in 2013, "our local Methodist church formed a single-congregation Methodist Anglican partnership with the congregation of our local parish church. We are the Christian Church in our suburb."

Despite the frustrations at parts of the Covenant process, "the relationship between our two Churches at all levels has changed; there is a culture of encouraging sharing, and co-operation."

The JIC had concluded "that we cannot move any closer together unless we now begin to try to solve some difficult issues for both of us. The Commission perceives that this is a significant moment for mission in our islands, and that there is a change in the tone of ecumenical relationships, with a sense of needing to move forward in answer to God's call."

The challenge for the Methodist Church, he said, was "to consider how it might become an episcopally ordered Church within the historic episcopate"; while the challenge for the C of E was to "achieve the interchangeability of ministries by receiving those already ordained in the Church of God by the Methodist Church".

The report of the JIC called for the two Churches' Faith and Order bodies to bring forward proposals that could be agreed, and "allow us to have a relationship of much deeper communion between our Churches".

For the Methodist Church, he said that "the difficult recommendation" was about bishops. "The Conference, the body in which rests our corporate episcope, has on several occasions agreed to move towards a personal episcopacy, particularly as a means to enhance the unity and mission of the Church, and the Conference this year recognised that when it voted for the resolution.

"But . . . there are those strongly in favour in principle, and there are those strongly opposed. I suspect, however, that the majority would be content to move forward in this way, if the Conference so determined, with the intention of enhancing the mission of the Church, together with the Church of England."

Any proposal for the Methodist Church to become episcopally ordered would "be a matter of robust debate", especially as "such a move would be permanent and irrevocable."

He also described the effect that the change would have on the worldwide Methodist Church. "We do not have a Methodist Communion analogous to the Anglican Communion. There are, as members of the World Methodist Council, autonomous Methodist Churches in nearly every country in the world, with a worldwide membership of approximately 80 million.

"The majority of these are episcopally ordered, but not within the historic episcopate. If the Methodist Church of Great Britain, still regarded by many as the 'Mother Church', were to become ordered in the historic episcopate, I believe that it could begin to transform the relationship of other Methodist Churches with their Anglican neighbours, potentially a very significant opportunity for the world-wide mission of the Church."

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said that the report suggested that the Anglican-Methodist Covenant stood at a crossroads. A great deal of co-operation was going on a local level between Anglican and Methodist churches, although the situation was "geographically patchy".

"We must now face, head on, the question of interchangeability of our ministry. . . Any move by the Methodist Church to recognise the historic episcopate must force us to consider how those who have been presbyterily ordained will be regarded."

The report did not say that the Church was theologically ready to take that step, but it asked both Churches to work to see what might be done towards it, he said.

In the debate on the following motion, Canon Dagmar Winter (Newcastle) warmly welcomed the report, suggesting that "the idea that Christ is any less present in the other denomination seems ludicrous."

The Revd Dr Roger Walton (Methodist Church) said that the final report of the JIC had received an "enthusiastic and warm" reception at the Methodist Conference. This had surprised him, given the "very mixed" reaction to the interim report in 2011. He reflected on why there had been "hardly a voice, vote, or tweet" against this last report.

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, noted that a lack of progress on the interchangeability of ministries was, on the ground, "proving to be an obstacle to deeper communion". Without the ecumenical ecclesiology called for by the report, people would find themselves "wasting hours of time and lots of effort on trying to resolve practical issues, such as housing and finance, when we embark on joint appointments".

He welcomed the proposal to develop arrangements for an interim period to embrace the ministry of those ordained in the Methodist Church.

Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (West Yorkshire & the Dales) supported moving the Covenant process on. Her own parish had a close relationship with its nearest Methodist church, but there was confusion about their own identities, and fear of losing a distinctively Anglican identity that was largely bound up in their building and form of worship. Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) welcomed the report, and urged the Synod to endorse its recommendations. He said that he could think of "simpler" and "more adventurous" ways that the Faith and Order bodies of each Church could move forward, although he did not want to explain what he meant yet.

"Disunity among Christians is sinful, and contrary to the will of God," he said. "It should bring us to repentance and to be unswerving in our desire to remove those blocks."

The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, who chairs the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, said that he wanted to impress on the Synod how far the Methodists were willing to share with Anglicans.

Ecumenism was seen as tedious and wordy, he said, but that should be put right by moving the process along. "This isn't a proposal for full unity of the Churches (but) for doing the work to help us to see if we can to receive each other's ministries. What a good, joyful result that could be."

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford), having been present at the Covenant service where "we made our Covenant together", was saddened at the lack of subsequent progress and particularly that the Archbishops' Council had never once discussed the JIC.

He said that the Churches nationally had to set an example for churches at a local level; and asked why there had never been a joint meeting of the General Synod with the Methodist Conference.

The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) offered the Synod a "theological comment on the word 'covenant'". He hoped that the Covenant would help to make the Church "as universal and visible as our God wants it to be".

The Revd Anne Hollinghurst (St Albans) said that, because of the joint work she and her neighbouring Methodist colleague had been doing in St Albans city centre and with the local courts, "I have more in common with her than with many of my Anglican colleagues ministering in very different circumstances. . . Our mission together would be so much more enhanced if our structures were less cumbersome and [if] there were interchangeability of ministers."

Robin Lunn (Worcester) called for an implementation timetable: "As the Covenant was signed on 1 November 2003, I really don't think that I can be accused of rushing things." He urged the Synod to "make 2015 the year that major progress is made on this issue".

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury), from a Methodist background, hoped "that we will receive [the report] and endorse this enthusiastically."

John Freeman (Chester) wanted to support the report wholeheartedly. His experience in his locality suggested that "it is great, and it works."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, insisted: "Unity isn't functional. In our sinful way, we think we can make it, or pray or work for it. Unity is a given. We are invited to participate in the grace of the blessed Trinity.

"We need to be more committed to joyous evangelism where the gospel is being preached. . . Could we resolve it quickly so we can get on with the most important job: the re-evangelisation of England? Christ has already made us one by faith and baptism in him, and we will never be separate again."

The Synod overwhelmingly approved the motion:


That this Synod:

(a) thank the Joint Implementation Commission on the Anglican-Methodist Covenant for its work in its second phase;

(b) endorse the three recommendations made in its Final Reports (appended to GS1971);

(c) invite the Appointments Committee to appoint the Church of England co-chair and two Church of England members of the proposed Joint Covenant Advocacy Group; and

(d) request the Council for Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission to work with the Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church to undertake the work set out in Recommendation 1 of the Final Report.

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