Methodists and Anglicans receive first report on Covenant

The first report on the practical and theological applicationsof the Anglican-Methodist Covenant has been published. This firstreport from the Joint Implementation Commission (JIC) will bepresented this summer to the annual Conference of The MethodistChurch and the Church of England's General Synod.

The Covenant, signed on 1 November 2003, commits both churches tofinding practical ways of working more closely together. The JIC,made up of six Anglicans, six Methodists and a participant observerfrom the United Reformed Church, has looked into faith and orderissues; local implementations of the Covenant; how to communicateand promote the Covenant; and the wider ecumenicalimplications.

The Rt Revd Ian Cundy, Bishop of Peterborough and Co-Chair of theJIC, said "I warmly welcome the publication of this interim report.It speaks of work in progress and I hope it will provoke widediscussion in both churches and with our ecumenical partners. Thereis much good news to share about the way the Covenant hasstimulated closer working together in a number of places, and I amsure that others will be encouraged by the sharing of goodpractice. There are still some issues that require furtherdiscussion. We have set these out clearly and hope that as we moveto the next stage of our work we will be able to make furtherprogress in the light of decisions made by the Conference and theSynod this summer."

This first interim report includes scriptural and theologicalreflections on the meaning of Covenant, before moving on toexploring possible practical ways forward. At this stage the reportonly aims to make suggestions to prompt discussion and debate inthe churches, and to reinforce the local partnerships that alreadyexist. Responses from the churches will be taken into the ongoingwork of the JIC, which is expected to report again in 2007-8.

Professor Peter Howdle, Co-Chair of the JIC, said: "this has been achallenging but rewarding and exciting process. The members of theJoint Implementation Commission have worked well together and,thanks to everybody involved, we now have a document that we hopewill stimulate wide-ranging discussion in both our churches andwith our ecumenical partners. This Interim Report offers resourcesand encouragement to both Anglicans and Methodists to thinkseriously about the important issues involved, and to work out howwe take forward in practice the Covenant which both churchesentered into in a spirit of faith and expectancy."

Church leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and thePresident of the Methodist Conference signed the 2003 Covenant atthe Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, in the presence of HerMajesty Queen Elizabeth II, in a service that concluded withprayers of thanksgiving and dedication in Westminster Abbey. Thesigning of the Covenant was the culmination of decades ofdiscussion and set out a commitment to a closer relationship andthe principles for on-going co-operation between the churches. TheJIC was formed to help the churches put the principles intopractice and to ensure outstanding differences between the twochurches continue to be explored. Its report marks the first timethat members of both churches will have a chance to see how it ismaking a real difference. The JIC was set up for an initial periodof five years and will report again on its work to the MethodistConference and the General Synod of the Church of England no laterthan the summer of 2008.

The Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis, Anglican Co- Convenor of the JIC,said "the JIC has covered quite a lot of ground in a short time.The excellent working relationships between the members of thegroup have been a model of what the Covenant is meant to achieve.However, this is very much work in progress. We hope that it willenrich the discussions that Methodists and Anglicans are having inmany places on how to put the Covenant into practice. In the 'faithand order' chapters we set out the key elements of some rathersensitive issues so that each church can understand the otherbetter. We put some manageable challenges to both churches. Thereport is intended as a springboard to further work on practicalimplementation of the Covenant."

The three main areas addressed by the JIC report are to do with thebread and wine used in communion services; the attitudes of the twochurches to lay people presiding at communion services; and thefactors that would enable those ordained by one church to be fullyinterchangeable with those from the other. The report does notresolve all issues raised, but aims to help frame the debate sothat members from both churches can understand and respond tothem.

The report acknowledges that, despite their historic shared roots,the custom and practice of the two churches has developed indifferent ways. An additional issue is the geography of the twochurches: Methodist circuits and districts rarely match up withAnglican deaneries and dioceses, and additionally the MethodistChurch covers Wales and Scotland as well as England.

Nonetheless, both churches remain committed to the Covenant and tofinding ways to work together. The Revd Peter Sulston, MethodistCo-Convenor of the JIC, said "the Covenant between the Church ofEngland and the Methodist Church is making a real difference inmany places and the report gives examples of that difference. Ihope those stories will encourage others. Another thing the reportdoes is to explore, as its title says, 'the spirit of theCovenant'. It shows very clearly how a covenant commitment, asMethodists recognise in the Covenant Service, can change people andsituations. There is a lot here for members of the Methodist Churchand Anglicans in the Church of England together to think about,talk about, pray about and then work out in shared life andmission."