From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Anglicans, British Methodists take steps toward unity

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Tue, 18 Dec 2001 15:25:52 -0600

Dec. 18, 2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212)870-38037New York

By Kathleen LaCamera*

LONDON (UMNS) - British Methodists and Anglicans have announced a proposed
covenant for greater unity between their two communions that church
officials liken to an "engagement to be married."

The proposed agreement is part of a December report resulting from formal
conversations between the two traditions since 1998. For the first time
ever, Anglicans and Methodists have agreed to the "mutual affirmation of the
life and ministry of each other's churches." Both churches will vote on
whether to accept the covenant at denominational meetings next July. 

Like many who already work in ecumenical settings, the Rev. Rosemary
Wakelin, a prison chaplain and Methodist minister, said she welcomed the
news of closer official ties between Methodists and Anglicans. At Norwich
prison, Wakelin's supervisor is an Anglican priest, and her responsibilities
regularly find her working with pastoral teams from a wide variety of faith

She is glad the official talks are progressing, but observed that when it
comes to real ecumenical relationships, people at the grass roots have been
"getting on and just doing it" for years. 

"(My job as prison chaplain) is jolly hard so you just do the best you can,"
Wakelin added. "When you're at the cold face, you don't argue about who is
holding the pick, you just get on with it."  

The Rev. John Taylor, who co-chaired the formal conversations said, "As has
often been the case at grass-roots level, Christians in their local
communities have led the way and are wondering what all the fuss is about.
For years they have recognized each other as true Christians.... Yet in
terms of our national churches, (this) is a major and significant step that
will make wider things possible."

The "Anglican-Methodist Covenant" as it is known, includes a series of
affirmations, including the statement that both communions belong to the
"One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ" and affirm each
other's "authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament."  

Topics on which there is still no formal agreement include the mutual
recognition of each other's ordained clergy, the role of women in church
leadership, some matters of order and practice in communion, and concerns
about "establishment" or the status of the Church of England as Britain's
official state church. Taylor acknowledged his own disappointment that the
report did not go further to resolve some of these issues. 

"There are many unresolved issues. This report does not try to gloss over
them," he explained. "It rather resolves that the vast list of things that
still separate us should be the ongoing agenda for continuing, open and
frank discussion.... We do not want to fudge issues, but face them

A longtime ecumenical activist and former British Methodist president, the
Rev. Stuart Burgess, told United Methodist News Service that these
developments must be seen as a positive, creative step forward and a
building block for the future.    

"I hoped we could go much further much more quickly than we have, but the
report is really a pragmatic stage; it provides a way forward, and that is
what is important. The ecumenical journey is about patience and endurance." 

For the Rev. Stephen Plant, Cambridge faculty member and convenor of the
British Methodist working party on church/state relations, the proposed
covenant pushes Methodists on the question of whether to buy into a
state-established church. His national working party is looking at a range
of church-state issues and is hoping to develop an official Methodist
political theology that has not before been articulated. 

"Some in our church would say that a close relationship such as the one the
Anglican Church has with the state, does not permit the church to criticize
or influence the government effectively," he explained. "Other Methodists
would say that (state) establishment of the church provides an opportunity
for evangelization of rulers and authorities."

Currently, all 26 Anglican bishops are voting members of the British
Parliament's House of Lords.

Plant said that this Anglican-Methodist covenant would also influence the
work he does with the Cambridge Theological Federation. Through the
federation, students from many Christian denominations and other traditions
regularly worship together. Groups take turns leading services from their
own liturgical heritage. Plant admitted that occasionally when non-Anglicans
led the service or a woman presided over communion, some Anglicans stayed

"This new covenant will provide some assistance, thought not necessarily
solve these issues," he said. 

Bishop Barry Rogerson, who co-chaired the formal conversations for the
Anglicans, said the covenant "could well change the face of English

"We have laid the foundations, which we hope will lead at some point further
down the road to full communication with the interchangeability of ministers
and subsequently to visible unity," he noted. 

Wakelin hopes it will happen. She believes Methodists should never have
split from the Anglican Church three centuries ago and thinks that in the
end, with God's grace and a certain amount of humility, the two churches
might succeed.

But her experience of nearly 20 years in the ordained ministry tells her
that real obstacles to such unity will not be overcome easily. She remembers
a conversation with an Anglican priest on the day she was ordained in 1983.
"He said to me, 'If you ordain women, you will lower the status of the
priesthood.' I said, 'It's never been about status, it's about service.'" 

In the continuing dialogue, Wakelin believes that Methodists bring a great
tradition of women with them to the Anglican-Methodist unity table, starting
with John and Charles Wesley's mother, Susanna. 

"We've got something to offer them," she said. "We have a much better
attitude towards women than they do."

Other ecumenical participants taking part in the formal conversations
included representatives from the Baptist, Moravian, Roman Catholic and
United Reformed churches in Great Britain. 
# # #
*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.

United Methodist News Service
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