DIVISION in the Church represents a wound in the body of Christ.
The division between the Church of England and the Methodist Church
is, in the great scheme of things, a recent one. It is one of the
tragedies of the history of the Church in this nation that the
Church of England was not able to hold the holiness movement that
became the Methodist Church.
An Anglican-Methodist Covenant was signed in 2003. It was a
significant step in closer relations between the Church of England
and the Methodist Church, and consisted of a series of affirmations
and commitments. The first affirmation stated that each Church
acknowledges the other as "true Churches belonging to the One,
Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ".
The others stem from this bold statement. When we say of another
body that it is a "true Church", we are saying that it possesses
and professes the hallmarks of the Church, including the expression
of orthodox faith, the sacraments of the new covenant, and the
ministry of word and sacrament.
THE first commitment was to work to overcome remaining obstacles
to unity, and, over the past decade, a Joint Implementation
Commission (JIC) has engaged in detailed dialogue, published in two
quinquennial reports (2008 and 2013), and a series of interim
reports, which have addressed a range of issues of theology,
ecclesiology, and mission.
A number of important proposals have been made to strengthen our
joint mission and ministry. In the second quinquennium, a
particular emphasis has been on bringing forward proposals for the
mutual recognition of ordained ministry.
It has been hard work. Progress has been slow. This is not
surprising, as the issues are important. Yet there is a general
understanding that ground-breaking progress will not be made until
the issue of ministry is resolved.
It should be noted that what is proposed by the JIC now is very
different from that which was proposed in the late 1960s. The
failed scheme of 1968-72 was for a two-stage institutional merger
of the two Churches. What is envisaged now is a stage on the way to
full, visible unity.
If the Methodist Church were to take steps to express the
ministry of personal, collegial, and communal oversight exercised
by the Methodist Conference in such a way as the Church of England
could recognise as being in the historic episcopal succession, then
the Church of England could confidently say of the Methodist Church
what it says of itself - this is an episcopal Church.
ANGLICAN Churches remain committed to the preservation of the
threefold order of ministry of deacons, priests, and bishops, and,
according to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, agreement on the
historic episcopate ("locally adapted in the methods of its
administration") is a necessary precondition for Churches to be in
communion with one another.
A survey of ecumenical agreements on ministry to which Anglican
Churches have been party shows that this commitment is not
weakened. The Church of South India began this, with the new,
United Church's being ordered in the historic episcopate, and its
bishops being the ongoing ministers of ordination.
Recently, agreements in North America have included the ordering
of the Lutheran Churches of the United States and Canada becoming
ordered in the historic episcopate. Twenty years ago, the Porvoo
Agreement brought into communion the Anglican and Lutheran Churches
of Northern Europe, and ensured that those Churches where the
historic episcopal chain had been broken received that sign
The agreement approved last month between the Church of Ireland
and the Methodist Church in Ireland built on these precedents, and
represents a very significant new development in Anglican-Methodist
relations (News, 16 May; Letter, 23
In each of these agreements, those ordained in the partner
Church before the agreement have been enabled to exercise their
ministry of word and sacrament in the new Church or in the Anglican
Church concerned. In time, the minister of ordination after the
agreement being always a bishop in the historic succession, this
period of anomaly comes to an end.
THIS is not without controversy, but the Churches called on the
JIC to address the question, and the JIC now recommends that the
two Churches be bold and generous in bringing about the stated
intention of both Churches, moving towards that completeness that
each now lacks through division, without diminishing or rejecting
what they currently are.
A helpful theological term in understanding the process involved
is the Orthodox canonical concept of oikonomia, or
economy. This concept, as old as the Church itself, enables those
in authority in the Church to set aside specific aspects of normal
legal or sacramental disciplines for a limited time and for an
overriding purpose, supremely for the "salvation of souls".
The unity of the Church, a gospel imperative, could well be a
situation in which our two Churches could be challenged to take
definitive steps to heal the wound in the body of Christ that is
How the Methodist Church orders itself in the historic
episcopate and how the Church of England enables the ministry of
all ministers in a future, episcopally ordered Methodist Church is
the task of the faith and order bodies and legislative drafters of
the two Churches.
This two-key model is, however, consistent with the trajectory
of agreements from other parts of the world, and is offered as a
way to bring about a small but deeply significant step in the
journey towards Christian unity.
The Revd Dr Will Adam is Vicar of St Paul's, Winchmore Hill,
London, and a member of the C of E's Council for Christian Unity.
He has been a member of the Joint Implementation Commission since