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The Methodist Church, at its annual Conference in Loughborough,has approved a report laying out some of the issues about churches,the state and establishment. The Church hopes that it will spark adebate among its own members and in other denominations on thetopic.

The Rev Jane Craske, of the Faith and Order Committee thatproduced the report, told Conference that "this report has anecumenical context, but it is not an ecumenical report. Covenantaffects us and we have to expect it to affect Anglican actions andattitudes. We are expected to speak openly to our sisterchurch."

Craske added, "we have to understand what establishment means toAnglicans. If we are to discuss establishment, we cannot discuss itin the abstract. We have to know what it means now, and how it haschanged over the last 30 years."

Craske said "there are no easy answers in this debate. Neithercomplete disengagement between church and state, nor completeidentification of church with the state, will work for Methodists.Neither extreme position works, but nor is everything fine. Thisreport recommends some changes to produce better ecumenicalrelationships in order to provide better for the faith of thenation."

The Rev Dr. Paul Avis, Anglican Associate Member of the 2004Methodist Conference and Anglican co-secretary of the CovenantJoint Implementation Committee, told Conference that he welcomedthe report as "a courteous, informed and responsible approach to aset of difficult issues. A question we might ask is: how can weengage together as churches with local communities, civil and withthe structures of the state itself?"

The 2003 Anglican-Methodist Covenant brought some of thequestions about church and state to the front of Methodist thinkingfor the first time. Using examples from the Bible, Methodisthistory and current experiences, the report concludes withreflections and recommendations, rather than demands. In approvingit, the Methodist Conference commends the report for study andconsultation throughout the Church.

The report contains questions rather than answers: "This reportaims to map the ground around this topic and does not claim to bethe final word on the subject. Rather, we hope that it will helpMethodists understand what some of the issues are, and encouragediscussion and debate about relationships between churches andstates."

The report adds: "This is a necessary preliminary step that wehope will lead to joint conversations between The Methodist Churchand the Church of England. This is a broad and complex subject, andthis report only aims to discuss some of the issues. But we hopethat having raised some points we can enlarge the debate infuture."

The report notes that the nature of the state itself ischanging, with some functions either privatised or passed toregulators or agencies that operate at arms length from thetraditional instruments of state. At the same time, Britain is anincreasingly multicultural and multifaith society, while the WelshAssembly and Scottish Parliament emphasise that the MethodistChurch in Great Britain relates to three nations.

Although there are no current moves to bring the Church ofEngland and The Methodist Church closer together than agreed in theCovenant, Conference accepted that the time is right to look atestablishment issues. Conference agreed with the report's authorsthat it "cannot wait forever on a situation that will probablycontinue to change in significant ways over the next fewyears."