Methodist ministers could gain new powers to officiate at Church of England services if proposals to move towards closer unity between the two Churches are agreed at the General Synod next month.
Officials at this year’s synod will debate whether to bring the Church of England and Methodist Church into “communion” with one another. The current relationship between the two Churches is defined in the 2003 Anglican-Methodist Covenant that includes several commitments to work together on areas including mission and decision-making.
In the synod paper outlining the latest proposed changes to this relationship, it says the covenant was “not intended to be a settled destination for our two churches, but rather, as the accompanying Common Statement says in its opening paragraph, ‘a major stepping stone on the way towards organic unity’, with other steps on the journey still lying ahead.”
The document underlines the impact of closer communion, including opportunities to share “new ways of worshipping and witnessing” and “ecumenical cooperation for the life and mission of the rural church”, which sometimes struggles to serve Christian communities.
One area to be debated by the Church of England concerns the historic insistence on episcopal ordination as necessary for ordained ministry. Currently Methodist ministers are ordained by the “presbyteral” president of the Methodist Conference and not by a bishop.
In a joint statement introducing the proposals, Anglican bishop Jonathan Baker and Methodist Dr Neil Richardson say: “We believe that these proposals on episcopal ministry and on the reconciliation of presbyteral ministries are congruent with the teaching and polity of our two churches and that they can now be commended to the churches for acceptance. We also believe that accepting the proposals made here will enable a new depth of communion between our churches and enhance our common mission, to the glory of God.”
A previous unity proposal was narrowly defeated at the General Synod in 1972. The two churches have been separate denominations since the 18th century, when disagreements over the status of travelling preachers and the administration of sacraments led to the Methodists breaking away from Anglicanism.
Picture: Members of the Church of England's Synod attend the vote on the consecreation of women bishops at the General Synod in 2014 PA