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.