Renewed plans to unite the Church of England and Methodist Church to be scrutinised by the Synod

26 January 2018

METHODIST CHURCH

A choir of 250 adults and 50 schoolchildren take part in a Praise in the Park event in Sutton Park, last July

A choir of 250 adults and 50 schoolchildren take part in a Praise in the Park event in Sutton Park, last July

A DEBATE on a report containing proposals for the coming together of the Church of England and the Methodist Church will take place during next month’s meeting of the General Synod.

Members will be asked to welcome the report, produced by the faith and order bodies of the two Churches, which calls for ministers from the two to be made interchangeable (News, 30 June 2017). Proposals for the union of the two Churches, debated periodically since the 1950s, were narrowly defeated in General Synod in 1972.

The present recommendations are different, calling for communion rather than full unity. A note from the Commission says that acceptance would be a “profound sign of reconciliation”, and warns that there would be “serious” implications to not proceeding.

“I won’t hide from you that it’s not completely uncontroversial . . . you will hear voices on both sides in all three houses,” the secretary-general to the General Synod, William Nye, said last Friday. The proposals contained elements that were “challenging to comfortable assumptions in our two Churches”, including the acceptance of bishops in the Methodist Church and a temporary period in which Methodist clergy not ordained by bishops would be treated as such in the C of E. Whether or not this was a “bearable anomaly” in the greater interests of unity was to be debated.

The Synod sessions, starting in Westminster on Thursday 8 February, will run into a Saturday for the first time and on a trial basis, to help members who work during the week. (The summer sessions in York take place over a long weekend.)

This will also be the first time that representatives from the Anglican Communion attend on the floor of the chamber. On the Friday, the Bishop of Guildford will move a motion affirming companion links between English dioceses and other parts of the Communion, in preparation for Lambeth 2020.

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There will then be a debate on a motion from the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, urging the Church to lobby both retailers and the Government to minimise food waste. It will be moved by the Vicar of Felixstowe, the Revd Andrew Dotchin, who helps to run the Life Community Pop-Up Shop, which sells bags of unsold edible food (News, 2 December 2016).

On the Saturday, the lead bishop for safeguarding, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, will give a presentation on progress on safeguarding and the Church’s preparation for the Independent Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (News, 22 December 2016), with time for questions. In March, there will be public hearings into safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, will then move a debate on a motion on religious communities, which includes a call to “celebrate the many new expressions of the religious life through Recognised and Acknowledged Communities”, and to request a new canon to provide a “framework for religious life in the Church of England”.

A note explains that the lack of “canonical regularisation of ordained ministries” within these communities has left clergy working in these contexts “less supported and less accountable” than those in other ministries. Safeguarding is of particular concern: the report into the abuses perpetrated by Peter Ball raised concerns about oversight of Religious communities.

A canon on the Religious life is recommended as the first step towards resolving this.

A presentation on digital evangelism will also be given.

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