Will UK Methodists heal two-century rift with Church of England?
Are Britain’s Methodists planning a return to the Church of England after more than two centuries of division? That’s what their president, Rev. David Gamble, suggested to the Church of England General Synod in London today. The two churches entered a covenant in 2003 that committed them to deepening unity and cooperation. His presence at the synod, and plans by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to attend the Methodists’ conference in June, were visible signs of this link, he said.
But the results leave something to be desired, Gamble acknowledged: “It has to be said that around the country the situation is patchy. In some places there are very close working relationships and exciting new initiatives. In others you could spend quite a long time trying to find any sign of the covenant in practice.”
After reviewing the two churches’ cooperation in various fields, he ended his speech by saying: “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.”
The Methodist Church of Great Britain split off from the Church of England in 1795. It proposed unity with the Church of England in the 1960s but a Church of England General Synod in 1972 voted against it. As Gamble said in his address, “when I entered theological college, at Wesley House in Cambridge, in 1971, I really expected to spend my ministry as minister in a united, Anglican/Methodist Church. I still remember our great disappointment in 1972.”
The religion think tank Ekklesia said many Methodists and Anglicans wanted stronger links and maybe even a merger, and thought the process was going too slowly. “The Methodist leaders’ words today may be seen as an attempt to move things on more quickly,” it wrote.
On her blog Articles of Faith, Ruth Gledhill of The Times went further, saying the Methodists (who have no bishops) might accept them in a merger if women (who can hold any Methodist leadership position) are allowed to become bishops in the Church of England.
“It is possible to envisage a scenario where those Anglo-Catholics who would oppose unity with Methodists leave for the new Roman Anglican Ordinariate as the Church of England proceeds towards women bishops, paving the way for full Methodist Anglican unity,” she writes. “The joint church then gets the squillion pound Westminster Central Hall (just £94 million in fact), one of the top pieces of real estate in the entire country, if not the world.”
No discussion sighted yet on what this could mean for Methodists outside of Britain. The British Church has 267,000 members and says: “There are over 800,000 people in Britain who have an active connection with the Methodist Church. There are 70 million such people across the world.” That’s about the size of the Anglican Communion worldwide.
Any comments from Methodists and Anglicans in or outside the U.K. about a merger?