Methodists and Anglicans receive first report on Covenant

The first report on the practical and theological applications of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant has been published. This first report from the Joint Implementation Commission (JIC) will be presented this summer to the annual Conference of The Methodist Church and the Church of England's General Synod.

The Covenant, signed on 1 November 2003, commits both churches to finding practical ways of working more closely together. The JIC, made up of six Anglicans, six Methodists and a participant observer from the United Reformed Church, has looked into faith and order issues; local implementations of the Covenant; how to communicate and promote the Covenant; and the wider ecumenical implications.

The Rt Revd Ian Cundy, Bishop of Peterborough and Co-Chair of the JIC, said "I warmly welcome the publication of this interim report. It speaks of work in progress and I hope it will provoke wide discussion in both churches and with our ecumenical partners. There is much good news to share about the way the Covenant has stimulated closer working together in a number of places, and I am sure that others will be encouraged by the sharing of good practice. There are still some issues that require further discussion. We have set these out clearly and hope that as we move to the next stage of our work we will be able to make further progress in the light of decisions made by the Conference and the Synod this summer."

This first interim report includes scriptural and theological reflections on the meaning of Covenant, before moving on to exploring possible practical ways forward. At this stage the report only aims to make suggestions to prompt discussion and debate in the churches, and to reinforce the local partnerships that already exist. Responses from the churches will be taken into the ongoing work of the JIC, which is expected to report again in 2007-8.

Professor Peter Howdle, Co-Chair of the JIC, said: "this has been a challenging but rewarding and exciting process. The members of the Joint Implementation Commission have worked well together and, thanks to everybody involved, we now have a document that we hope will stimulate wide-ranging discussion in both our churches and with our ecumenical partners. This Interim Report offers resources and encouragement to both Anglicans and Methodists to think seriously about the important issues involved, and to work out how we take forward in practice the Covenant which both churches entered into in a spirit of faith and expectancy."

Church leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the Methodist Conference signed the 2003 Covenant at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in a service that concluded with prayers of thanksgiving and dedication in Westminster Abbey. The signing of the Covenant was the culmination of decades of discussion and set out a commitment to a closer relationship and the principles for on-going co-operation between the churches. The JIC was formed to help the churches put the principles into practice and to ensure outstanding differences between the two churches continue to be explored. Its report marks the first time that members of both churches will have a chance to see how it is making a real difference. The JIC was set up for an initial period of five years and will report again on its work to the Methodist Conference and the General Synod of the Church of England no later than the summer of 2008.

The Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis, Anglican Co- Convenor of the JIC, said "the JIC has covered quite a lot of ground in a short time. The excellent working relationships between the members of the group have been a model of what the Covenant is meant to achieve. However, this is very much work in progress. We hope that it will enrich the discussions that Methodists and Anglicans are having in many places on how to put the Covenant into practice. In the 'faith and order' chapters we set out the key elements of some rather sensitive issues so that each church can understand the other better. We put some manageable challenges to both churches. The report is intended as a springboard to further work on practical implementation of the Covenant."

The three main areas addressed by the JIC report are to do with the bread and wine used in communion services; the attitudes of the two churches to lay people presiding at communion services; and the factors that would enable those ordained by one church to be fully interchangeable with those from the other. The report does not resolve all issues raised, but aims to help frame the debate so that members from both churches can understand and respond to them.

The report acknowledges that, despite their historic shared roots, the custom and practice of the two churches has developed in different ways. An additional issue is the geography of the two churches: Methodist circuits and districts rarely match up with Anglican deaneries and dioceses, and additionally the Methodist Church covers Wales and Scotland as well as England.

Nonetheless, both churches remain committed to the Covenant and to finding ways to work together. The Revd Peter Sulston, Methodist Co-Convenor of the JIC, said "the Covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church is making a real difference in many places and the report gives examples of that difference. I hope those stories will encourage others. Another thing the report does is to explore, as its title says, 'the spirit of the Covenant'. It shows very clearly how a covenant commitment, as Methodists recognise in the Covenant Service, can change people and situations. There is a lot here for members of the Methodist Church and Anglicans in the Church of England together to think about, talk about, pray about and then work out in shared life and mission."

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