2010. február 12., péntek

Methodists are ready to merge with Church of England

Methodists declare 'we're ready to merge' with Church of England


London Times
Ruth Gledhill
February 12, 2010

The Methodist Church is prepared to be absorbed by the Church of England if that is the price of unity, Britain’s most senior Methodist said yesterday.

The Rev David Gamble, president of the Methodist Conference, told the General Synod of the Church of England, meeting at Church House, Westminster: “We are prepared to go out of existence, not because we are declining or failing in mission, but for the sake of mission.” Methodists were “prepared to be changed and even to cease having a separate existence as a Church” if that served the needs of the Kingdom of God.

The Church of England and Methodists have been flirting with reconciliation ever since their divorce two centuries ago. Formal talks between the two churches began in the 1960s, but an attempt in 1972 at full unity failed at the last hurdle because Anglo-Catholics were opposed. It took a generation for the Methodists to recover from the humiliation of being rejected after voting for a reunion.

Now, with only 265,000 members and heading towards extinction within a few generations, they are willing to try again. Yet the Church of England is also facing steady decline, having barely 960,000 monthly worshippers, and the Methodists have a strong hand. The Methodist Church owns prime real estate such as Westminster Central Hall.

A condition of unity will be keeping the name Methodist in some form. “It is more of a coming together rather than any suggestion that it would be the Methodist Church being swallowed up or losing its name,” a spokesman for the Methodist Church said. It would not be an Anglican takeover.

Mr Gamble’s address to the synod was the first such since 1993 — and the first time that the Methodist Church has voiced a willingness to cease to exist. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will speak at the Methodists’ conference this summer.

Seven years ago the Churches signed a document intended to lead to reunion. In 2003, in the presence of the Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the leaders signed a covenant affirming each other’s orders and sacraments and committing themselves to full unity. A progress report is due next year.

Dr Williams told the synod that partnership with the Methodists had been crucial to the success of the church growth project Fresh Expressions. They also work closely with Westminster Abbey, and in many places unity is already in effect, with congregations sharing buildings and even services.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791), was a Church of England clergyman and never intended to start a denomination. But he initiated an open-air style of preaching and in taking the gospel to workers in the fast-growing cities refused to be bound by the parish system.Unity with the Church of England and possibly other Anglican denominations in Britain would not affect the church structures of the US Episcopal Church or Methodism in the US.

The acquisition of so many thousands of Methodists by the Anglicans would more than compensate for the loss of hundreds of Anglican Catholics opposed to women bishops who are currently considering an offer by the Pope to accommodate them. The Methodist Church in this country has been ordaining women for three decades.

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