31 October 2003
How Methodists and Anglicans reached the point of signing a Covenant
The Anglican-Methodist Covenant of England is to be signed tomorrow in Westminster by the leaders of the Methodist Church and the Church of England in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen. Leading up to this historic day is a story going back more than 200 years...
Methodism began as a movement within the Church of England, under the influence of the 18th century preacher and clergyman John Wesley. After his death in 1791, Methodism grew apart from the Church of England. Further revival movements and splits took place throughout the 19th century, before most of the separate strands of Methodism were united as the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1932.
The suspicions of the 18th and 19th century gave way to a new ecumenical spirit in the 20th amongst many Christian churches. The British Council of Churches was formed in 1942 and the following decades saw increasing dialogue in areas such as common prayers, exchanging pulpits and liturgical revision. The pioneering of Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) since the 1960s has broken down barriers and forged new relationships locally and regionally. There are now more than 500 LEPs involving the two Churches - many also including the United Reformed Church.
Early Anglican-Methodist conversations about a possible national reunion led to detailed proposals in the late 1960s. But in 1972, the unity proposals failed to gain the required majority in the General Synod of the Church of England. A subsequent Covenanting for Unity proposal also failed in 1982. After these experiences, Anglicans and Methodists adopted the more cautious step-by-step approach that has led to today's Covenant.
The language of the Covenant is similar to many of the covenants that have been signed between local and regional Christian churches. This is the first time that two of the largest Christian Churches in Britain have signed a national covenant and it has been described as "a major stepping stone towards organic unity".
In agreeing to enter into the Covenant, the two Churches have set up a Joint Implementation Commission to identify priorities that will help the two Churches work towards unity. The Commission's work will include sharing and suggesting good practice at local and regional level. This will include encouraging joint worship or mission projects, and the sharing of facilities and personnel.
The Commission will also decide on the setting up of working parties to undertake study on outstanding theological differences between the two churches on areas such as Episcopacy, Women's Leadership, and Holy Communion.
The Co-Chairs of the Joint Implementation Commission are Bishop Ian Cundy for the Church of England and former Methodist Conference Vice President, Professor Peter Howdle.
"The Common Statement of the Formal Conversations between the Methodist Church and the Church of England" is published jointly byMethodist Publishing House (PB140) and Church House Publishing (GS1409). Price: £4.25.