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Be bold and generous in healing

27 June 2014

Anglican-Methodist reunion requires Churches to reach out, says Will Adam


Welcome: the Revd Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference

Welcome: the Revd Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference

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 again.

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 May).

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 our division.

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 2006.

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