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Anglican-Methodist covenants, and ministerial interchangeability

04 July 2014


From the Bishop of Down & Dromore

Sir, - May I be allowed to add some important information to your report (News, 20 June) of the recent installation of the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland?

The report mentions that the two Archbishops and I participated in the installation ceremony. This is true. Our particular role, however, is not mentioned. The three Church of Ireland bishops were invited to be involved in the laying on of hands, during the prayer of consecration when the new President was consecrated as an "episcopal minister". This development came after many years of the Irish Covenant between the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland. The Covenant was signed in 2002.

As we have progressed in our relationship together, we have recognised that there is "sufficient consonance" in our understanding of personal episcope to move forward in this way. The development has been received well by IASCUFO (the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity and Mission) and also by AMICUM (the Anglican-Methodist Commission on Unity in Mission), of which I was co-chair, and which is finalising its report at the moment.

The next stage is for the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and/or former Presidents to participate in the laying on of hands when a new Bishop of Limerick is elected and consecrated, probably later this year.

At that point, interchangeability of ministries comes into place.

The See House
32 Knockdene Park South
Belfast BT5 7AB


From the Revd Matthew Duckett

Sir, - I appreciate the Revd Will Adams's careful exposition of the "bold and generous" steps proposed by the Anglican-Methodist Covenant's Joint Implementation Commission (Comment, 27 June), but feel that he passes too lightly over their controversial nature.

The recognition that currently exists between our two Churches does not mean that they are the same, or have an equivalent ministry, otherwise we would not need a covenant to work towards visible unity.

Anyone looking seriously at the Methodist Church could hardly doubt that the Holy Spirit equips Methodist ministers for their ministry. But this ministry nevertheless derives from the Methodist Conference, which adopted the practice of ordaining ministers only in 1836, more than 40 years after its separation from the Church of England.

To this day, it is still the Conference that ordains. Perforce, the Methodist Church has developed a theology of ministry very different from that of historic Catholic Churches. Given this, it is not surprising that many in the Methodist Church see no need to adopt the historic episcopate, and resist the proposal that they should.

For Anglicans, the historic episcopate should be about more than "valid orders". It is a sign of the continuity of the Church, a community of eucharistic communities spread through time and space, but united by that sign with the first eucharistic community of the upper room.

The visible historic nature of the Church is a first-order issue in ecclesiology, and one of the great dividing lines of the Reformation. The Catholic view appeals to the New Testament: the incarnation is visible and historic, and the Church is always the "body", not the "spirit", of Christ. In Acts, the Church, after the ascension, is seen taking the place of Jesus as the visible proclamation of the Kingdom in the world. There is no local church in the New Testament which was not superintended either by the Apostles themselves or by others they had appointed.

Of course, the inward grace can exist without the outward sign, but, if the Church is in its essence a visible body, then the visible sign of the historic episcopate belongs to its fullness as much as wheat bread and grape wine (also historic and visible) belong to the eucharist.

The Church of England, in her formularies and in her praxis in receiving ministers from other Churches, has always maintained that historic episcopal ordination must be supplied where it is lacking. But a visible sign can be received only by actually being received, and not by some wishful thinking that it had really been invisibly present all along without anyone noticing until now.

The proposal of the JIC for interchangeability of ministry without supplying episcopal ordination, like the arrangement recently entered into in Ireland, would have the effect of setting aside the Catholic understanding of the Church as a visible body, and would cause great difficulty to those for whom this is a core issue.

To suspend belief for a "period of anomaly", which would in effect be for a lifetime, would be no different from ceasing to believe. It is the task of the JIC to propose ways forward, but it is equally the responsibility of both our Churches to be entirely clear and truthful about what we hold as core convictions.

Little Ilford Rectory
124 Church Road
London E12 6HA

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