MEMBERS of the Methodist Conference have endorsed the proposals
in the report of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant Joint
Implementation Commission (JIC) when they met in Birmingham this
week, despite continued expressions of concern about the adoption
of Methodist bishops.
The proposals, which will be considered by the General Synod
next week, call for the two Churches' Faith and Policy groups to
work on proposals that would mean that the Methodist Conference's
ministry of oversight would be expressed in "a personal form of
connexional, episcopal ministry"; and for the C of E to "recognise
that ministry . . . as a sign of continuity in faith, worship, and
mission in a Church that is in the apostolic tradition".
The Methodist co-chair of the JIC, Professor Peter Howdle, said
that there had been "a shift in the ecumenical tone . . . both
nationally and internationally" over the past12 months. It was "a
very decisive moment and a very auspicious time," he said.
At the recent meeting between the Archbishops of Canterbury and
York and both the President and Vice-President of the Conference,
"there was a very strong sense of needing to move forward for the
sake of mission in our islands", Professor Howdle said. They were
"very strongly in favour of actionsto move things forward.
"Our vision of full visible unity` is not one of an
institutional takeover or of a merger. But it is one where our two
Churches have a deeper relationship of being in communion together;
believing, worshipping, and engaging in mission in the body of
Christ wherever possible."
In order for the "deep communion to develop", both Churches
needed to take "fundamental steps" to "change and transform". TheC
of E would need to address the recognition of ordained ministries
in the Methodist Church, leading to interchangeability; and the
Methodist Church would need to agree "to some form of bishops in
the historic episcopate".
Addressing the Conference, the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt
Revd Donald Allister, said that it was "time for a fresh
"Many of us are tired of the bureaucracy, and tired even of the
language of 20th-century ecumenical engagement. We believe in John
17, and we want to be Christians together.
"We now understand the historic and theological reasons for our
divisions, but we also know that those divisions are a scandal; and
that real unity is not only Christ's will, but also essential if we
are to reach this land with the love of Jesus."
He continued: "We Anglicans accept the Methodist Church as a
true Church. We accept your sacraments as from the Lord. We know
full well that Peter [Hancock] is a Minister of Word and Sacrament
and a true presbyter. But our historical and theological situation
stops me from saying that his presbyteral ministry can be fully
exercised in the Church of England.
"It must be time to put this right, as it was put right in South
India decades ago, and in Ireland weeks ago. It must be right to
allow ministers of either of our Churches to hold office in either,
or even in both.. . . It is necessary to heal the wounds of
distrust and estrangement, for which I acknowledge that the Church
of England bears a heavy responsibility."
The President of the Irish Methodist Conference, the Revd Peter
Murray, explained the recent developments in his Church's
relationship with the Church of Ireland: "We have moved in this
last year to the mutual recognition and interchangeability of
presbyteral ministries." He said that the C of I had "accepted that
from now on, and retrospectively", the office of President of
Conference "is equivalent to the office of bishop in the Church of
The Revd Colin Emerson, from the Nottingham and Derby District,
said that the existing rules were often flouted in local
circumstances; including a rule that permitted Methodist ministers
to lead "special services" in C of E churches.
He said that the former Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd
John Packer, had said that "any service at which communion was
administered was a special service. It means that on two occasions
I presided at midnight communion on Christmas Eve. To my knowledge,
only one person objected."
And he said that in a previous appointment, when the vicar fell
ill, the weekly communion services in the C of E church was taken
by him and the URC minister in alternate weeks. "Was it a Methodist
service? An Anglican service? The people there just saw it as a
communion service. God didn't strike me down, and the building is
Canon Tony Walker, the C of E ecumenical representative to the
Conference, and Team Rector of Retford, said that, in his area, the
26 C of E churches and six Methodist churches provided joint
baptism and wedding preparation, and a joint confirmation
"At a local level, we may not be able to solve the theological
issuesof reconciling existing presbyteral and diaconal ministries
of our two Churches, or of finding the right forms of episcopacy
that will satisfy both denominations.
"But we can do our bit to ensure that unity between Methodists
and Anglicans is at least as much bottom-up as it is top-down."