How Methodists and Anglicans reached the point of signing a Covenant

The Anglican-Methodist Covenant of England is to be signedtomorrow in Westminster by the leaders of the Methodist Church andthe Church of England in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen.Leading up to this historic day is a story going back more than 200years...

Methodism began as a movement within the Church of England,under the influence of the 18th century preacher and clergyman JohnWesley. After his death in 1791, Methodism grew apart from theChurch of England. Further revival movements and splits took placethroughout the 19th century, before most of the separate strands ofMethodism were united as the Methodist Church of Great Britain in1932.

The suspicions of the 18th and 19th century gave way to a newecumenical spirit in the 20th amongst many Christian churches. TheBritish Council of Churches was formed in 1942 and the followingdecades saw increasing dialogue in areas such as common prayers,exchanging pulpits and liturgical revision. The pioneering of LocalEcumenical Partnerships (LEPs) since the 1960s has broken downbarriers and forged new relationships locally and regionally. Thereare now more than 500 LEPs involving the two Churches - many alsoincluding the United Reformed Church.

Early Anglican-Methodist conversations about a possible nationalreunion led to detailed proposals in the late 1960s. But in 1972,the unity proposals failed to gain the required majority in theGeneral Synod of the Church of England. A subsequent Covenantingfor Unity proposal also failed in 1982. After these experiences,Anglicans and Methodists adopted the more cautious step-by-stepapproach that has led to today's Covenant.

The language of the Covenant is similar to many of the covenantsthat have been signed between local and regional Christianchurches. This is the first time that two of the largest ChristianChurches in Britain have signed a national covenant and it has beendescribed as "a major stepping stone towards organic unity".

In agreeing to enter into the Covenant, the two Churches haveset up a Joint Implementation Commission to identify prioritiesthat will help the two Churches work towards unity. TheCommission's work will include sharing and suggesting good practiceat local and regional level. This will include encouraging jointworship or mission projects, and the sharing of facilities andpersonnel.

The Commission will also decide on the setting up of workingparties to undertake study on outstanding theological differencesbetween the two churches on areas such as Episcopacy, Women'sLeadership, and Holy Communion.

The Co-Chairs of the Joint Implementation Commission are BishopIan Cundy for the Church of England and former Methodist ConferenceVice President, Professor Peter Howdle.

"The Common Statement of the Formal Conversations between theMethodist Church and the Church of England" is published jointlybyMethodist PublishingHouse (PB140) and Church House Publishing (GS1409). Price:£4.25.

Queen witnesses signing of Anglican-MethodistCovenant

Address by the Methodist President during the Covenantservice at Westminster Abbey

Full order of service from Westminster, 1 November 2003(PDFfile)

An introduction to the Covenant together withthe Covenant text