Methodist and Anglican unity - Time for a gamble?
Well certainly the president of the Methodist Conference David Gamble has set the cat among the pigeons with his assertion at the C of E Synod that
We are prepared to go out of existence not because we are declining or failing in mission, but for the sake of mission.
In other words, we are prepared to be changed and even to cease having a separate existence as a Church if that will serve the needs of the Kingdom.
Not surprisingly the Methodist blogosphere is full of comment on the matter. And yet I think organic union remains far away. And rightly so!
There are a number of issues that would need to be fully and properly addressed before such could happen. These include on the part of Methodists such issues as the nature of episcopacy, whether women could be considered equally for all posts in the united church without opt out provisions which serve to undermine, the matter of establishment, the use of non alcoholic communion wine and these are only starters.
These are matters which will not just go away and indeed they should not be fudged.
Also the C of E is not the only ecumenical partner. Many Methodists would feel more comfortable with free churches than with the C of E. A real possibility exists of losing Methodists to these churches. Certainly any union that does not take seriously the free church mentality of many Methodists and all that goes with it, is seriously flawed.
I have little doubt that to some degree this process is driven by the realities of decline. Figures for Methodism are quite frankly alarming. Yet this points us to a problem. When a church talks of dying, such is likely to be its outcome. It is a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. And yet we can hardly close our eyes to painful realities.
I am not sure that ecumenism can work coming from the top. I think David Gamble would probably share that view. He is in many ways flying a kite to see how people will respond albeit flying the kite with genuine conviction. But let us not forget that the most successful ecumenical moves take place in the local situation. And certainly a move to help this would be accepting the sacramental ministry of each other's clergy without reservation. And then I have no doubt that especially in rural situations many a village would benefit from churches coming together rather than playing a discreditable game of last man standing.
So how do I view David Gamble's speech. Well I do not see Methodism as necessarily being for all time. After all John Wesley conceded that its time might come to an end. And certainly as David Gamble recognises the mission of God and the needs of the Kingdom of God are more important than Methodism much as many of us love Methodism. Yet I cannot get away from a feeling that a national unification with the C of E is probably not at present the means to address this. In a real way I feel I have enough problems without taking on the problems of Anglicanism as well. At the end of a wek in the C of E Synod has for me been rather dispiriting, I see that they are as far as we are from being the means through which the mission of God is best adavanced.
I pride our relationship with the C of E as I do that with other partners. I acknowledge that there may come a time for Methodism to die. But when it happens it should be not an absorption but a new beginning. That is a worthwhile dream. Sadly its being brought to reality with the development of a vibrant diverse inclusive church for England is still some way in the distance. We can labour for that day but until then we must work in broad partnerships continuing God's mission yet not losing sight of a prize that may in time be won.