Covenant is a call to go forward in faith, says Methodist President

Address given by the President of the MethodistConference, the Rev Dr Neil Richardson, at the Service ofThanksgiving to mark the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, WestminsterAbbey

'Into all the World: Our Churches' Shared Mission

The concerns of the Church extend way beyond the Church. TheChurch does not exist just, or even primarily, for the sake of itsmembers. So Churches wrapped up in themselves are a travesty ofwhat they should be. If today we appear to be a little wrapped upin ourselves, the reality is otherwise. We have not voted for thisCovenant in order to get a better deal for our 'shareholders', butbecause we believe it to be right. We have become convinced that weshall serve the purpose of God more effectively together thanseparately.

The Gospel reading we have just heard bids us look way beyondthe walls of our churches. We cannot be faithful to the Bible, orindeed to influential voices within our own traditions, unless wedo. Archbishop William Temple is remembered for saying that theChurch exists for those who are not yet members of it. John Wesley(perhaps to the chagrin of some of his fellow clergymen!) insistedthat the world was his parish. So the concerns of the Church - ofour Churches - extend way beyond our boundaries.

What might those concerns be? They reach at least as far as theneediest and poorest people in our country - and beyond ourcountry. It may not always look like that, but how can we befaithful to Jesus, unless we are so concerned - and put our concerninto practice?

Or consider the kind of society we should like to see in ourcountry. The Church subscribes to a religion which insists thatit's more important to be human than religious. What human beingsare, and what we are for, are two of the great unanswered questionsof our time. So the Church is committed to humanizing life -helping people to discover in and beyond themselves resources offaith, hope and love which maybe they didn't know were there.

We are also committed, as Churches, to exploring, and helpingour nation to explore, what are the things which really matter inlife, and, conversely, what are the illusions and falsehoods whichdisfigure our national life. We are committed to the care of theplanet, from which one species per day is now disappearing. (Howcan we believe that God took the trouble to make an environment ofsuch wonderful intricacy and variety without committing ourselvesto trying to prevent its destruction?)

And we are committed, not least, to sharing the love of God - ofwhich we certainly have no monopoly - because we believe that loveis the ultimate environment in which we all live.

It is possible that people of other faiths, or of no faith, maybe worried by talk of a Church whose concerns extend way beyond itsfour walls. So allow me to say this: the Church's mission can neverbecome a crusade, because of God. True, even 'God' - or shall wesay, especially 'God' - can be a dangerous word. But if wemaintain, as we must, that God is love, and seek to live by that,then the Church's mission can never be a threatening or oppressivecrusade, and the Church is simply untrue to itself when thathappens.

Rather, the Church's mission begins with the infinite valuewhich our Creator God attaches to every single human life. Itderives its character from Jesus, who, for Christians, is themirror of divine gentleness, sympathy and practical service. And itreceives its momentum from the breath of God which breathed a worldinto life. So, whilst Churches inevitably have 'domestic' mattersto attend to, the well-being of our country and the healing ofGod's world are absolutely central to our agenda.

In different, but complimentary ways, the two traditionsrepresented here today enrich this vision of a world infused by thegrace and love of God. Methodist 'connexionalism' reminds us thatthe world is not as disconnected as it seems. Rather, all thingsare connected in and by the Love which is at the world's heart. Thegreat liturgical tradition of the Anglican Church reminds us thatlife itself is intended to be a liturgy of praise to God in a worldwhich has found reconciliation and peace.

To that vision, that wider ecumenism, we pledge ourselves today.As Churches we are clear that what we already share far exceeds ourremaining differences. This Covenant is a call to go forwardtogether in faith, hope and love. May it be a catalyst for therenewal of our common life and mission. And may its benefits befelt way beyond our Churches.

Queen witnesses signing of Anglican-Methodist Covenantfor England

Views from the Covenant signing at Methodist CentralHall, Westminster

How Methodists and Anglicans reached the point of signinga Covenant

Fullorder of service from Westminster, 1 November 2003 (PDFfile)

An introduction to the Covenant together with theCovenant text