Formal conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church

The final report of formal conversations between the Church ofEngland and the Methodist Church will be published in December,following consideration of a draft text by the appropriate bodieswithin each church during the coming months. Publication inDecember will allow Methodists and Anglicans time to study thefinal report before its first consideration by the MethodistConference in June 2002 and the General Synod in July 2002.

The General Synod of the Church of England (1) and the MethodistConference (2) initiated formal Conversations in response toCommitment to Mission and Unity which was published in September1996.

The specific mandate given to those conducting the FormalConversations was to draw up a Common Statement which wouldinclude:

  • A description of visible unity including a common profession ofthe apostolic faith in word and deed
  • An exploration of outstanding differences between the twochurches
  • A Declaration of acknowledgements and commitments

The Declaration would include:

  • A statement of repentance for the separation of the twochurches
  • Mutual acknowledgement of one another's churches as belongingto the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ andtruly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people ofGod
  • Mutual acknowledgement that in both churches the Word of God isauthentically preached and the sacraments of baptism and theeucharist are duly administered
  • Mutual acknowledgement of one another's ordained ministers asgiven by God and as instruments of his grace (This mutualacknowledgement would act as a means of moving towards thereconciliation and interchangeability of ministries that wouldultimately result in a common ministry.)
  • A commitment to act together
  • A commitment to share ministries of oversight
  • A commitment, whenever appropriate, to take decisionstogether.

If entered into, the formal acknowledgements would provide afirm foundation on which to build in future. The solemn commitmentsto act together would help to ensure a real deepening ofrelationship. A particular commitment to share ministries ofoversight, involving a commitment to take decisions togetherwherever appropriate, would sustain and strengthen this newrelationship and help to lead the churches on towards a fullyreconciled life and reconciled ministry.

The Formal Conversations began work in February 1999. The grouphas now completed its draft report. This addresses the specificmandate which it was given and includes the declarations,acknowledgements and commitments which will enable a newrelationship between the two churches as a stage on the way tovisible unity. Appropriate bodies within each church will considerthe draft text during the coming months before the finalpublication of the report in early December. This will allowMethodists and Anglicans time to study it before its firstconsideration by the Methodist Conference in June 2002 and theGeneral Synod in July 2002. It is hoped that both bodies willcommend the report for consideration throughout the two churchesand, reporting back, for final decision. It is further hoped thatecumenical partners will also respond.

(1) The General Synod is the governing body of the Church ofEngland.
(2) The Methodist Conference is the governing body of the MethodistChurch.

Within the common search for Christian unity, relations betweenAnglicans and Methodists have been particularly close. In 1946 DrGeoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached his Cambridgesermon, asking the Free Churches to 'take episcopacy into theirsystem'. This led to the report entitled Church Relations inEngland (1950). The only church which formally responded to thecall was the Methodist church. This led to the proposals forAnglican-Methodist unity, which envisaged union by two stages.Stage One involved a reconciliation of churches and ministries witha Methodist episcopate working in parallel with Anglican bishops.Stage Two envisaged total union. These proposals, though approvedby the Methodist Conference, failed to achieve a sufficientmajority in the Church of England in 1972. Nevertheless, there weresome positive consequences:
a) the Church of England, through its canon law (Canon B15A),extended eucharistic hospitality to communicant members of otherchurches;
b) in 1978 the General Synod of the Church of England declared thatit required no further doctrinal assurances from the MethodistChurch beyond those it had already received through the Methodistapproval of the Anglican-Methodist plan of unity;
c) growing co-operation developed through Local EcumenicalPartnerships (LEPs) in many places.
In 1994 it was agreed that there should be Informal Conversationsbetween the Methodist Church and the Church of England. Commitmentto Mission and Unity is the report of those Conversations and waspublished in 1996.