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New report from the joint Church of England-Methodist committee

30 May 2014


From the Revd David Redrobe
Sir, - It is when the doors of the Anglican and Methodist Churches are really opened (News, 23 May) that the significant differences between the two Communions become obvious and cannot be ignored.

The ecclesiologies of the two Churches are fundamentally and theologically very different. Episcopacy and ordination have unique and significant differences in terms of ontology, function, and sacramental emphases, and because the approach to these vital aspects of the Anglican Church witness to the ancient historical view of priesthood and ministry, it is the Methodist Church that would have to completely alter its theology.

Recently, the Methodist Church produced a liturgy that would enable a lay person to preside fully at the eucharist, thus removing one of the unique gifts of presbyteral ministry, something that the Church of England could never accept.

In theory, perhaps, the Methodist superintendent is the episcopal figure, and every Methodist circuit has such a person, responsible for the overall life of a Methodist circuit; but the country would be overrun with Methodist bishops if they were consecrated such by the Church of England. The Methodist chair(man) is not an episcopal figure, and the role is a collaborative one and has no unique individual authority, as with an Anglican bishop.

The Church of England has differing aspects of Catholicity and biblical commitment, expressed in the daily life of those parish churches that are Catholic and High Church, and Evangelical. The Methodist Church has never had this kind of inclusiveness, although the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship has been there to offer pastoral support to those presbyters and lay people who are committed to the centrality of the eucharist, a group that is very much in the minority.

Liturgically, the two Churches have very different approaches to worship. The Methodist Church is not committed to the centrality of the eucharist as is the Church of England, and, although it has a magnificent Worship Book, full of seasonal approaches to the eucharist, in many places it is hardly ever used; and, although there are lovely Services of the Word, many local preachers, who conduct most of the Services of the Word, never use them.

Sociologically, the two Churches are very different. The Free Church principle abounds in Methodism, and, in many rural areas, the "Church" and "Chapel" attitudes still keep the two communities apart, and very often this still applies even in so-called local ecumenical partnerships.

I believe it is very important, where it is possible, and that should not be forced, that the two Churches should work together in the community, having first of all agreed on a definition of mission that in no way interferes with the historical esse of the two Churches. As for ministry, if the Methodist Church would agree to being embraced by the historic episcopate - but no: we have been down that road before, and it was a cul-de-sac. It is an opportunity, however, to look again at the theology of the presbyteral ministry, which would give Methodist Catholics a unique opportunity to witness to the centrality of the eucharist. This would certain thrill the hearts of the Wesleys.

St Andrew's Vicarage
28 South Cliff Road
Kirton in Lindsey
Gainsborough DN21 4NR

From the Revd Bruce Bridgewood
Sir, - Your report about the Covenant between the C of E and the Methodist Church, "Covenant: 'We'll turn our key if you turn yours'" is worrying.

The Joint Implementation Commission notes that no progress has been made on "removing obstacles to the interchangeability of . . . ministries". Quite so. And why? Because, as usual, no one is prepared to tackle the theology. The elephant in the room is the same elephant as was there 40-odd years ago. The fact is that, whatever else Methodist ministers are, they are not priests in the Church of God, not having been ordained by a bishop. So we can't just cox and box at the eucharist as if they were.

As things stand at the moment, RC and Orthodox priests (both species, of course, episcopally ordained) could celebrate the eucharist in Anglican churches without further ado. Reformed and Lutheran pastors would need to be made priests by the laying on of hands of the bishop. There is no way round this. No amount of glad-handing and being nice to our fellow Christians gets round this. That Methodist ministers are ordained to a ministry of Word and Sacrament is not in doubt; but it's not a rover ticket. Of course, there will be Methodists who will resist the idea of reordination as insulting; and they are entitled to that view. Nevertheless, they cannot then expect to be given an Anglican altar for the asking.

The answer here may well be conditional ordination, something, mutatis mutandis, along the lines of conditional baptism.

Just to mix the metaphor, no amount of key-turning in various locks will make any difference, unless various nettles are grasped first: so let us grasp them.

15 Temple Orchard
High Wycombe HP13 6PH

From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan
Sir, - I read with regret but no surprise that the Joint Implementation Committee writes in frustration about the Covenant that it is supposed to implement. It is now more than 20 years since the Methodists first approached the Church of England for talks, and the history is a sad one. May I pick out some crucial features that time may have eclipsed?

First, the commission that produced in 2002 the report An Anglican-Methodist Covenant was asked only to make a statement of common faith. It was not charged with recommending anything that would move the Churches towards organic unity.

Second, the Covenant we were all to embrace therefore contained no requirement of any particular steps in any particular direction. It was solemnly sent round the dioceses as needing assent as changing the relationship with another Church. It changed virtually nothing; for it was devoid of content.

Third, it is true, as your report states, that the Churches said that, as a matter of priority, they would work to "overcome the remaining obstacles to organic unity". But "organic unity" was not defined; the obstacles were not identified, and the steps needed to overcome them were correspondingly absent. So we were engaged in making a pretty empty pledge, and it is not surprising if no one has done anything about it.

Fourth, in Southwark diocese, where I was then, we returned a following motion to the General Synod saying that we reckonedthat, for the Covenant to have content, it needed actual steps tobe taken to enable the interchangeability of presbyters between the two Churches. I moved this in the Synod on Southwark's behalf; it was opposed by the chair of the Council for Christian Unity; and it was carried in the Synod despite his opposition. We are now told, 11 years later, that "no progress has been made" in this. One has to ask why, when the Synod has passed a policy-making resolution, that policy has not been put into legal language and brought back to the Synod for "implementation". If someone has sat on it (and the 2008 report as well as this one look as though no one has noticed it), did anyone in the Synod ever ask who had sat on the policy and why?

Fifth, in summary, this interchangeability needs unilateral action by the Synod, which itself asked for it; and if "no progress" has been made, that is where the problem lies. How is it that the Implementation Commission has not thrust this point hard at those responsible?

21 The Drive
Leeds LS17 7QB

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