29 June 2004

Archbishop tells Methodist Conference, 'I hope we become more than just friends'

Yesterday, a serving Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the Methodist Conference for the first time since 1961. Sat in John Wesley's chair at the head of Conference, Dr Rowan Williams said: "the signing of Anglican-Methodist Covenant was an occasion of great hope and will continue to open doors. I hope we become more than just friends."

Conference, who stood to applaud the Archbishop at the end of his address, heard a speech expounding the terms 'Chosen People', a 'Royal Priesthood', and a 'Holy Nation' found in 1 Peter.

Encouraging inclusiveness, the Archbishop said: " What sort of people are we? A chosen people. That's to say we are not here because we have decided, but God has. 'You did not choose me', says Jesus in the fourth Gospel, 'I chose you.' 'Chosen people' indicates the hospitality of God, and the concept of invitation is at the heart of discipleship."

"We were made for royalty. Live the royal life!" urged the Archbishop, explaining that when we properly exercise the priestly role "we make peace between earth and heaven. But the work of making peace and giving thanks will demand of us a very deep letting go of what comes comfortably, a very serious movement beyond our comfort zone as we ask what it is that respect for the world demands of us."

The Methodist Church has spoken strongly about environmental issues in recent times, and the Archbishop continued: "We live in a world of colossally organised selfishness in which the environmental crisis that we all face is again and again deferred, postponed for our thinking and praying, let alone action."

In the third part of his address, Dr Williams said: "for the church to be a holy nation is for the church to be that kind of human community which puts a challenge to all other nations; which puts a question mark to all particular loyalties and belongings, saying these are not the ultimate things. In this light, the church is the exemplary nation."

In conclusion the Archbishop said: "If we hear those words from 1 Peter seriously, thoughtfully and carefully, we are left with a very grave, a very urgent challenge to how we are the Church. And whether we hear those words as Anglicans, Methodists, Russian Orthodox or Seven Day Adventists, is for these purposes immaterial."

There was also a message of optimism. The Methodist Church, as most mainstream Christian churches, is weighed down by rumours of decay and decline. But Dr Williams encouraged: "A church that is deeply anxious and depressed about itself is a very poor evangelist. The answer to that is not to send round happiness patrols to try and cheer people up into a false sense of security; it is to encourage ourselves and each other to turn our eyes to the God who calls."

After an adjournment the Archbishop returned to face an array of challenging questions from the floor. The Revd Ermal Kirby, Chair of the London North-East District, tried to draw the Archbishop into more 'radical and provocative' comment on the Anglican-Methodist covenant, and Dr Clive Marsh, Secretary of the Faith & Order Committee, asked how the Archbishop's messages could be made comprehensible within the church and wider community.

President of Conference, Revd Will Morrey, thanked the Archbishop for addressing Conference and spoke of the 'solidarity' that the Methodist Church has with the Church of England. Present alongside the President and the Archbishop of Canterbury was The Archbishop of Wales, The Most Revd Barry Morgan.

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