Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Methodist Responses to Embracing the Covenant

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One paper MAPUM (see yesterday's post) will be discussing is a summary of responses to the Joint Implementation Commission's first quinquennial report, Embracing the Covenant.  In this post I will summarise some of the findings of the report from the Methodist Church.  There is some material from the Dioceses too but as this is a Methodist blog, I will forbear from providing this information unless someone asks for it!  Please note the material below has been edited.

In July 2008, the Methodist Conference requested the Methodist Council to consider the report Embracing the Covenant and to ensure that it was studied in appropriate ways in Districts, circuits and local churches. The Conference also requested responses from the Methodist Faith and Order Committee and the Methodist Law and Polity Committee. The F and O response is summarised below, the L and P committee raised no major questions at this stage.

In March 2010 the Methodist Church Faith and Order Committee produced a formal response to 'Embracing the Covenant'.

  • It concludes that the report contains nothing that either contradicts or else is inconsistent with the teaching of the Methodist Church as expressed in its doctrinal standards, together with the adopted statements and resolutions of the Conference.
  • The Committee commends the move to extend the scope of the Covenant by involving the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church in Wales in the work of the JIC.
  • In commenting on the JIC proposals about Eucharistic practice, the Committee recommends that ‘for the sake of the Covenant, Anglicans and Methodists should explore whether it is possible to articulate a common theology of Christian symbolism that provides for legitimate diversity in worship, liturgy, sacred space and those other elements that shape the respective ethos of the two traditions’.
  • In speaking of who may preside at the eucharist, the Committee helpfully points to a need to clarify the relationship of presbyteral or priestly ministry to diaconal ministry, and the nature of presbyteral ministry to the ministry of the whole people of God (and, in particular, the nature of ministerial priesthood in relation to the common priesthood of the faithful).
  • The Committee goes on to note a potential development in the understanding of the goal of the Covenant from ‘organic unity’ to ‘full visible communion’. It asks whether these are indeed equivalents, and suggests that the institutional implications of each might be different.
  • It also asks for more work on what type of relationship is being identified in calling it a Covenant, commenting: ‘How the New Covenant in Christ and the proposed Covenant among the churches of the Anglican Communion may each contribute to understanding the nature of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant requires further investigation.’
  • The Committee concludes that subject to the detailed observations made in its commentary, it affirms both the intent and direction of Embracing the Covenant as consistent with the vision, hopes and expectations of the Methodist Church. 
  • The Committee also concludes that the most significant and far-reaching proposal in Embracing the Covenant is for the creation of a Methodist episcopate within the historic episcopate in the form of a President-bishop. Whatever the merits or demerits of this proposal, the Committee concludes that it is possible to state unequivocally that it neither contradicts nor is inconsistent with the teaching of the Methodist Church concerning the nature of episkope and the ordained ministry, though it identifies a number of issues that need to be further investigated, not least whether the episkope of a ‘bishop in synod’ in the Church of England and that of a President-bishop in the Methodist Church would sufficiently resemble each other to provide a sufficient basis in principle for an interchangeable ordained ministry.
The Methodist Council gave a considered response, as did 5 Districts of 8 that were requested. Six of 20 circuits requested responded. Ten individual responses were also received.

The reports received were of varying length and depth. Many were responding to general issues in the relationship between the Church of England and the Methodist Church and did not specifically centre on ‘ Embracing the Covenant’.

The reports were assessed qualitatively and the comments have been grouped under 6 headings:
  1. Local Covenant relationships.  Local mission initiatives are important and, as local projects, are often easier to work on jointly. The attitudes of local clergy have a significant impact on local relationships. Collaboration is often easier in rural areas. Joint Local Preacher/Reader training should be developed and their shared ministry encouraged.
  2. Structural issues/differences.  Culture, structures, boundaries and legal status all make covenant working difficult. Regulations for ecumenical cooperation should be made more permissive.
  3. Connexional Issues. Relationships with other denominations tend to complicate relationships within the Covenant. Scottish and Welsh dimensions must be considered. The relevance of the JIC’s work to local situations was queried – ‘mission is local, ecumenism is national’. Joint training of LP/Readers and ordained ministers should be encouraged.
  4. Unity and Diversity.  Structural unity of the two churches seems a distant goal. The future needs to be one of’reconciled diversity’. Mission rather than structural unity is important.
  5. Episcope and Episcopacy.  There is Methodist resistance, especially. to a diocesan model of episcopacy. The role of women is of paramount importance to Methodists.The JIC’s proposal for a President-Bishop is often not fully understood.
  6. Faith and Order issues raised.  Issues where more clarification and work is needed to reach agreement include episcopacy, interchangeability of ordained ministries, confirmation and Holy Communion.
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