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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
(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.