FEARS about proposals for intercommunion with the Methodist Church have not been allayed by the Faith and Order bodies of the two Churches, whose work has served to underline that the form of episcopacy proposed for the Methodist Church is not “episcopacy as the episcopally ordered Churches have known it”, the Anglican Catholic Future (ACF) network said this week.
In a response to the bodies’ report, due to be debated by the General Synod on Sunday (News, 14 June; Comment, 28 June), the ACF articulated a fear that “the proposals in their current form will divide the Church yet further,” and warned that they risked removing a rare source of unity in the Church of England.
On Wednesday, the Methodist Conference voted by 247 votes to 48 to permit, in principle, the marriage of same-sex couples on Methodist premises by Methodist ministers. The recommendations will be submitted to the wider Church for consultation, with a final decision due to be made at the July 2020 Conference. This was seen this week as a potential obstacle to closer unity from an Anglican Evangelical standpoint.
Forward in Faith welcomed the ACF statement, which argues that the report “hardly considers” concerns about the relationship between episcopal ordination and eucharistic presidency, despite the request from the General Synod last year to do so. “It has concentrated instead on how that relationship might be abrogated.” Forward in Faith said that it was a “deep disappointment” that the Commission “has not attempted to offer such an elucidation”.
The form of episcopacy proposed for the Methodist Church should bear “a family resemblance” to the historic episcopate as understood by episcopally ordered Churches, the ACF argues; but, instead, lies “a long way far from that”. “We must insist that personal episcopacy is not simply about the transfer of what has sometimes disparagingly been described as a ‘magic hands’ understanding of the episcopal role,” it says: it was a “structural principle”. Under the proposals, the Methodist Church would remain “synodically governed and led”.
Under the proposals, the Methodist Church would remain “synodically governed and led”.
The statement reiterates concerns that “Anglican polity does not suppose that a change to the status of the bishop who ordained a priest, or in relation to whom the priest serves, changes the orders of that priest.” Proposals for a “fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit” for Methodist presbyters, rather than another ordination, are akin to an “episcopal fiat” redolent of the papacy.
It also highlights the potential impact on the C of E’s relationship with other Churches, arguing that proceeding with the current proposals would be “highly detrimental” to the acceptance of the ordained ministry of women in churches which do not currently permit it, by giving succour to opponents of it who could argue that the C of E had since moved on to jettison “the absolute association of priestly ministry and Eucharistic presidency from episcopal ordination”.
“Little that once bound us together still serves that role,” it warns, with the exception of the Settlement of 1662 and episcopal order. “Now is an inopportune time to suspend the law and principle that has been so definitive of what members of the Church of England have in common.” Proceeding to draw up legislation “cannot be justified” it concludes
Forward in Faith’s statement asked of episcopal ordination: “If a central tenet of Anglican doctrine can be abandoned in this way, what other tenets of Anglican doctrine might follow?” Drawing up legislation would be “premature and irresponsible. . . Proposals that sacrifice doctrinal integrity to ecumenical expediency are unlikely to prove wholesome, fruitful, or — in the end — unifying.”
A statement from Affirming Catholicism said that its members held “a range of views” on the proposals, “and that, for some, the proposed way forward represents an unacceptable anomaly”.
The ACF warns that “fault-lines” in both Churches over same-sex marriage, and clergy in same-sex relationships, meant that those questions of discipline — on which much work remained to be done — “could easily become highly fractious”.
The Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) has not produced a statement on the proposals for communion; but this week, Clive Scowen, a lay member from London, said (emphasising that he was not speaking on behalf of EGGS) that same-sex marriage was a “first order issue” for him.
“I could not remain in the Church of England if it decided to change its doctrine of marriage and to allow same-sex marriages in our churches. It would follow, therefore, that if the Methodist Church decided to change its marriage doctrine and to allow such marriages in its churches, I could not vote to move forward with any proposal which would bring union with the Methodist Church closer. I suspect that most Evangelicals in Synod would take a similar view.”
In a blog on the Archbishop Cranmer website, the Revd Marcus Walker, Rector of Great St Bartholomew in the City of London, and formerly Deputy Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, argued in favour of the proposals. There was “a significant tradition of Holy Orders’ being conferred by those only in presbyterial orders . . . ontologically, it clearly can happen, and that is key”.
Turning to history, he wrote: “The refusal of the bishops of the Church of England to engage with the pastoral need for priests in America — and, indeed, to engage positively with the Methodist movement at all — can reasonably be seen to have left Wesley with no choice but to administer the sacrament of ordination himself, leading to the situation where the ministers of the Methodist Church in this century can claim the authority and validity of their orders through the imposition of the hands of a presbyter.”
The Methodist President-Bishop would be “safely within the bounds of catholic ecclesiology”, Mr Walker wrote. “It may not be the diocesan episcopacy as we commonly use it, but it conforms in action and legal nature to our broader understanding of it. We should welcome this entrant into the fold of the historic episcopacy.”
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