THE Church of England and the Methodist Church moved one step closer together last week.
After a wide-ranging debate, the General Synod approved Mission and Ministry in Covenant, a report that proposes creating full interchangeability of ministers between the two Churches, moving towards full communion, if not full unity (News, 26 January).
Although a number of concerns were raised on the floor of the Synod during the debate, the report was given overwhelming support, and in the vote received comfortably more than a two-thirds majority in each of the Houses: Bishops, Clergy, and Laity.
As a prelude to the debate, two Methodist leaders spoke to commend the scheme to the C of E. A former President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Ruth Gee, spoke of her “deep sadness” that the two Churches were not in communion. “Wherever there are distinctions and divisions, that means we are less than we can be, and less than God intend us to be,” she said.
The present Secretary to the Methodist Conference, the Revd Gareth Powell, then suggested that John Wesley would be angered at how each denomination had mostly accepted the “scandal of our disunity”.
The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, then introduced the debate on the report. Methodists were making a bold step towards the C of E, he said, by accepting for the first time that the President of the Conference be ordained a bishop in the historic episcopate.
This would mean that, from now on, all Methodist ministers would not only become presbyters ordained connexionally by the Conference, but also priests ordained episcopally.
For a period, however, Anglicans would have to tolerate an interim anomalous situation, in which current Methodist ministers, not ordained episcopally, would be able to serve within the Church of England.
Many speakers spoke warmly of the proposals, and highlighted places where Anglicans and Methodists already worked closely together. But others warned that the scheme would undermine traditional Anglican teaching on how priests were ordained.
Fenella Cannings-Jurd (Salisbury) said the report seemed to “obliterate diversity in the name of stability”; while Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford) attempted unsuccessfully to amend the motion so that the Synod would merely “take note” of Mission and Ministry in Covenant, rather than “welcome” it.
Other amendments were more successful: the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, and Canon Sharon Jones (Manchester) both won support for separate amendments that demanded further action to complete full reconciliation.
The Archdeacon of Portsmouth, the Ven. Gavin Collins, said that Methodists were compromising far more than the C of E in the cause for unity. Just as in the parable of the prodigal son, the Church must not be stuck outside like the elder brother, refusing to celebrate the brother who has returned home.
“There is a lot of work to be done, but . . . join the celebration in heaven as the prospect of family restored.”
One of the most applauded interventions came from the Revd Thomas Seville (Religious Communities), who said that, despite being a member of the traditionalist Catholic group Forward in Faith, he would vote happily for the motion. “There is no qualification of the Church of England’s commitment to apostolic succession in this document. None.”
The vote on the four-part amended motion was Bishops: 35 for, two against; Clergy: 131 for, 23 against, with 13 recorded abstentions; Laity: 124 for, 34 against, and 11 recorded abstentions.
Mr Powell said after the debate that he was grateful to the C of E for the “the progress we are making together on the path towards reconciliation and the ordering of our existing ministries in a way that reflects the needs and wishes of both Churches. . . As we move forward, we will continue to discern the will of God and deepen our understanding of each other through ongoing dialogue.”
Read the full debate here.
You can listen to a roundup of the General Synod on the Church Times Podcast