*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Methodists give cautious endorsement to bishops

04 July 2014

Gavin Drake reports from the Methodist Conference, meeting in Birmingham

CHRIS LISSAMAN

"A shift in tone": Professor Peter Howdle addresses the Conference

"A shift in tone": Professor Peter Howdle addresses the Conference

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 approach".

"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 Ireland".

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 still standing."

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 course.

"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."

Letters

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

8 September 2022
Church Times Cricket Cup: North v. South
Join us to watch the match at the Walker Cricket Ground, in Southgate, north London.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)