The Anglican-Methodist unity covenant in the United Kingdom is now firmly on track.

On Feb. 9 General Synod gave two-thirds majority support to Mission and Ministry in Covenant, which paves the way for interchangeability of ministries without the requirement that existing Methodist ministers be ordained by the Church of England. A resolution approving of the Covenant report won an overwhelming majority, despite loud opposition from Catholic rigorists in the weeks ahead of the synod debate.

The vote indicates changing climate in the Church of England, due in part to an erosion of the conservative Catholic constituency. Opposition from Catholic-minded synod members defeated unity plans in 1972 and 1980.

The other element seems to be a consensus among the current generation of synod members that greater church unity should carry more weight than the temporary anomaly Methodist ministers serving in the Church of England without being ordained by its bishops.

The synod heard commendations of the Covenant from two Methodist leaders. “Wherever there are distinctions and divisions, that means we are less than we can be, and less than God intends us to be,” said the Rev. Ruth Gee, a former president of the Methodist Conference.

John Wesley would be angered at how each denomination had mostly accepted the “scandal of our disunity,” said the Rev. Gareth Powell, secretary of the Methodist Conference.

The Most Rev. Jonathan Sentamu, Archbishop of York, welcomed the proposals: “A mute button must be switched off for the sake of the kingdom of God and the urgent need to reconnect our two church traditions.”

The Covenant carried the day despite warnings that it flew in the face of traditional Anglican teaching about the ordination of priests. Synod resisted an amendment moved by an evangelical, Prebendary Simon Cawdell (Hereford), that the synod should “take note” rather than “welcome” the Covenant document.

With the mood flowing strongly in favor, the synod supported an amendment by Canon Sharon Jones (Manchester) calling for further efforts to complete full unity with the Methodists.

The final count: Bishops: 35 for, 2 against; Clergy: 131 for, 23 against, with 13 abstentions; Laity: 124 for, 34 against, and 11 abstentions.

John Martin

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