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

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

Conference, who stood to applaud the Archbishop at the end ofhis 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 ofpeople are we? A chosen people. That's to say we are not herebecause we have decided, but God has. 'You did not choose me', saysJesus in the fourth Gospel, 'I chose you.' 'Chosen people'indicates the hospitality of God, and the concept of invitation isat the heart of discipleship."

"We were made for royalty. Live the royal life!" urged theArchbishop, explaining that when we properly exercise the priestlyrole "we make peace between earth and heaven. But the work ofmaking peace and giving thanks will demand of us a very deepletting go of what comes comfortably, a very serious movementbeyond our comfort zone as we ask what it is that respect for theworld demands of us."

The Methodist Church has spoken strongly about environmentalissues in recent times, and the Archbishop continued: "We live in aworld of colossally organised selfishness in which theenvironmental 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 thechurch to be a holy nation is for the church to be that kind ofhuman community which puts a challenge to all other nations; whichputs a question mark to all particular loyalties and belongings,saying these are not the ultimate things. In this light, the churchis the exemplary nation."

In conclusion the Archbishop said: "If we hear those words from1 Peter seriously, thoughtfully and carefully, we are left with avery grave, a very urgent challenge to how we are the Church. Andwhether we hear those words as Anglicans, Methodists, RussianOrthodox or Seven Day Adventists, is for these purposesimmaterial."

There was also a message of optimism. The Methodist Church, asmost mainstream Christian churches, is weighed down by rumours ofdecay and decline. But Dr Williams encouraged: "A church that isdeeply anxious and depressed about itself is a very poorevangelist. The answer to that is not to send round happinesspatrols 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 theGod who calls."

After an adjournment the Archbishop returned to face an array ofchallenging questions from the floor. The Revd Ermal Kirby, Chairof the London North-East District, tried to draw the Archbishopinto more 'radical and provocative' comment on theAnglican-Methodist covenant, and Dr Clive Marsh, Secretary of theFaith & Order Committee, asked how the Archbishop's messagescould be made comprehensible within the church and widercommunity.

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