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Methodist and Anglican positions on episcopacy, lay presidency, and the centrality of the eucharist

06 June 2014


From Prebendary Norman Wallwork

Sir, - In his analysis of the supposed irreconcilable theologies of ministry held by Anglicans and Methodists ( Letters, 30 May), David Redrobe seems to engage in the old ploy of citing only extreme cases.

His claim that the two ecclesiologies are fundamentally different is not borne out by Methodism's commitment to the threefold ministry in the United Churches of Asia, in Methodism's favourable vote for the original unity scheme of 1968-70, and in Methodism's vote in favour of the current Anglican-Methodist Covenant. On no occasion has Methodism turned its back on the historic episcopate as the way into a future threefold ministry crossing the episcopal and non-episcopal divide.

The implementation committee's proposal is that the Presidents of the British Methodist Conference become President-bishops receiving the historic episcopate as a gift via the Anglican, Swedish Lutheran, and united Indian traditions, so that personal episcopacy becomes a living part of Methodist faith and practice. Those who study the Covenant will know that there are no plans to make either Methodist district chairs or circuit superintendents bishops.

It clearly suits Mr Redrobe's argument to contrast High Church and Catholic Anglican views on the eucharist and ministerial orders with those of the run-of-the-mill Methodist. Had he sought, rather, to contrast the views of other Methodists of a more Catholic and ecumenical persuasion with those of many informal, Evangelical, and Low Church Anglicans, a different picture would have emerged. I well remember a group of Anglican Sisters who opted to have the local Catholic Methodist presbyter preside at their weekly eucharist rather than the Evangelical Anglican "minister" from the adjacent parish.

There is nothing new, as Mr Redrobe implies there is, in the current practice of lay presidency at some Methodist eucharists. What is new is a proper liturgy recognising this ministry when "deprivation" would mean the non-provision of the Lord's Supper in a particular locality. The practice of Methodist lay presidency is carefully guarded, authorised by the Conference and the President, and for only a given period and a given locality. One imagines and hopes that, as in the 1968-70 scheme, in a united Church lay presidency would cease.

Brookside Lodge
Three Horseshoes Lane
Cowley, Exeter EX5 5EU


From Mr Howard Smith

Sir, - The Revd David Redrobe (Letters, 30 May) may be correct in describing the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship (MSF) as "very much in the minority" within the Methodist Church. As, however, Prebendary Norman Wallwork has ably demonstrated in his recent history, The Gospel Church Secure (Books, 6 September 2013), the Fellowship, during its 80 years, has had an influence that has been very significant, and disproportionate to its numerical strength.

Among those who have graced the office of President of MSF are Lord Soper, Dr Gordon Wakefield, and Dr John Newton: names that are known and respected not just within Methodism, but far beyond.

The Methodist Worship Book (1999), which Mr Redrobe rightly describes as "magnificent", owes its very existence to a large extent to the devoted labours over years by several prominent MSF members.

As for the "centrality of the eucharist", an important report presented to the Methodist Conference in 2003 began with this statement: "In 2001, the National Church Life Survey asked around one in ten worshippers in Methodist churches which aspects of church life they valued most highly. The highest-ranked answer was 'Communion' - well ahead of other aspects of worship and mentioned by almost twice as many people as preaching."

Members of MSF are pledged (among other things) "to receive Holy Communion faithfully and regularly; to uphold and cherish the faith of the Church as contained in Holy Scripture and expressed in the historic creeds; and to promote, by prayer and action, the cause of Christian unity". Membership is open to the clergy and laity of all traditions.

Treasurer and Vice-President,
Methodist Sacramental Fellowship
3 Tynedale Close, Oadby
Leicester LE2 4TS


From the Revd Peter Ridley

Sir, - David Redrobe writes: ". . . if the Methodist Church would agree to being embraced by the historic episcopate - but no: we have gone down that road before, and it was a cul-de-sac." But when the first attempt at reunion was attempted in the 1960s, the English Methodists did agree to a rite of reconciliation of ministries involving the laying on of hands by Church of England bishops. It was our Church Assembly and General Synod that put up the cul-de-sac sign by voting that that scheme should be rejected.

The sensible compromise would be that proposed by William Temple in a letter to his friend Charles W. Lowry when Temple was Archbishop of York and union with Presbyterians was under consideration. He wrote: "Let them come to us for ordination in the historic ministry of the Church; and let the consecrating bishops receive Holy Communion the previous day from the presbyters who are to be consecrated bishops and then transmit the historic succession to their own folk.

"So we should hold apart till the schism was on the eve of being healed, but should on that eve publicly testify our recognition of the reality of their ministry and sacraments." (The italics are in the original letter as printed in Lowry's William Temple: An archbishop for all seasons, University of America Press, 1982.)

The Castle, Hilton
CA16 6LX


From the Revd Professor Adrian Low

Sir, - Your correspondents are overly negative about Methodist-Anglican conversations. While both communities struggle financially, it is potty in many village parishes to have two largely empty buildings, uncoordinated mission, two clergy (usually neither resident in the village), two administrative and management overheads, two pastoral teams, two fabric committees, two Christmas carol services, insufficient bodies in either for a choir, unshared organist, two thin Messy Churches, and neither with a Sunday school. . .

And a single liturgy is not the price anyone has to pay for unity, though in the Service of the Word much is very similar to typical Methodist worship, and the eucharistic liturgy used regularly in both Churches is almost indistinguishable. Unity is a clear goal of Jesus for good reason. Unity is a prize that releases energy to create. One Church, one faith, one Lord! God needs our unity on so many fronts.

Rather than suggest that the theology separates us, most Methodists and Anglicans I know would be hard pushed to distinguish the two denominations theologically. For the past 39 years, I have been a Methodist local preacher, the past three simultaneously a priest in the Church of England. I would be hard pushed to list any theological differences of consequence.

Of course, the organisations are different, inevitably. That could be the fault of Anglicans who, rather than catching the vision, embracing, empowering, and ultimately consecrating John Wesley, disallowed him from preaching in their pulpits. It was a sin of gross proportions in the Established Church of the time. Had he been made a bishop, the whole issue of unity would have gone away and the one community would have been enormously richer.

Instead, inspired by the Spirit, so that the poor, particularly, could take communion, he ordained, by the laying on of hands. In 1784, he told his brother: "I firmly believe I am a scriptural episkopos as much as any man in England or in Europe; for the uninterrupted succession I know to be a fable, which no man ever did or can prove." Consequently, initially for America, and then for the poor in Britain, he reluctantly ordained. That laying on of hands has persisted in Methodism at their ordinations ever since.

When I was priested, I explored if I could be ordained simultaneously into Methodism. Both Churches were nervous of taking a prophetic risk. Ultimately unity is about risk and a real will, energised by the Spirit. It will happen. It happened in the Church of South India.

In the 1969 unity negotiations, 77 per cent of the Methodist Conference voted in favour. The plans were halted by the two Lower Houses of the Convocations of Canterbury and York, which had a two-thirds majority in favour, but not the three-quarters majority required. It is about time the train was put back on the track.

Griffins Lodge, Bellamour Way
Colton, Rugeley WS15 3LL


From Mrs Chris Stand

Sir, - Under Methodist Standing Order 011, lay people can be authorised by the Methodist Conference to preside at communion if there is evidence that the circuit "is deprived of reasonably frequent and regular celebration of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper". This has been so since Methodist Union in 1932 and was a compromise between the Wesleyan Strand of Methodism, where lay presidency was not permitted, and the other strands, where it was.

David Redrobe suggests that the Church of England would never accept this. I am sure if you conducted a poll of all "Anglicans", some would accept this, and others would not. Also, if you polled all "Methodists", you would get the same result. If you asked many members after a Reader had led a service with communion by extension at some churches, many would not realise that this was not a full communion service.

Both the Anglican and Methodist Churches are broad Churches; the more Evangelical wings of both have more in common across the denominations than within the denomination, and the same for the more sacramental and Catholic wing (my High Church ordinand housemate found a spiritual home, when not on placement, at a Methodist church that used The Methodist Worship Book and had a robed choir). Also, in my experience, to many Christians, denominational labels are far less important than finding a church that is a comfortable fit for your spirituality and family circumstances.

I hope and pray that sooner rather than later we move towards greater unity. It would certainly make my life easier.

Methodist local preacher
The Vicarage, 35 Eve Lane
Dudley DY1 3TY


David Redrobe is a former Methodist minister, now an Anglican layman, and does not use the title "the Revd". Our apologies for its use at the top of his letter last week. Editor

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