FaithWorld

Will UK Methodists heal two-century rift with Church of England?

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Methodist Central Hall, London, June 2005/Adrian Pingstone

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.” westminster abbey

Westminster Abbey, 6 Sept 1997/Kieran Doherty

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.

Church of England stops short of links with breakaway U.S. Anglicans

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Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

The Church of England stopped short of recognising a new conservative church in North America on Wednesday, avoiding possible embarrassment for the main Anglican church in the United States.

But some evangelicals in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) said they were encouraged by the decision of the General Synod, the CoE’s parliament, for the archbishops of Canterbury and York to report back on the break-away church’s progress next year.

Some members of ACNA, formed in opposition to pro-gay members of the official Anglican body in North America, said they had not expected any kind of recognition from the Anglican mother church for another five years.

U.S. Jesuits honour ABC Williams with prize named after English martyr

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Archbishop Rowan Williams leads Christmas carol service at Canterbury Cathedral, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

Poor Rowan Williams. Only a few weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion was caught offguard by a Vatican offer of a new Roman home for Anglicans who cannot accept the idea of women bishops. At a joint news conference with London’s Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols, he did his ecumenical best to present this as a quite normal gesture among friendly Christian churches and not — as some media presented it — a Roman strategy to poach wandering sheep from the divided Anglican flock. It was proof of his sharp intellect and deep commitment to the ecumenical cause that Williams found a way to finesse this very trying situation. america mag

America magazine

Now another challenge has come not from across the Tiber, but across the Atlantic. The New York-based Jesuit weekly magazine America has just said it is proud to announce that The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the 2009 recipient of the Campion Award. The award is given on a regular basis to a noted Christian person of letters. It is named after St. Edmund Campion, S.J., who is patron of America’s communications ministry.”

CofE waits a little longer to decide on powers for women bishops

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Canterbury Cathedral, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

Anyone hoping to get an idea of how many Church of England traditionalists may abandon the Mother Church for Rome in disgust and despair over women bishops may have to wait a little longer.

What has already been a long-drawn out affair will be delayed a further six months after the CoE Revision Committee, tasked with looking at how women bishops can be accommodated, decided the matter would not be debated at next month’s General Synod, the Church’s parliament.

A poor response to the committee’s October suggestion resulted in it effectively being told to think again, pushing back the timetable.  Under Church law, the new proposal can now not be discussed until the next General Synod – in July.

Traditional Anglican bloc eyeing union with Rome is far-flung group

TAC seal

TAC seal

The question of how many Anglicans will join the Roman Catholic Church has been hanging in the air since Pope Benedict made his offer last October to take in Anglican groups that cannot accept reforms such as ordaining women bishops. The largest figure mentioned is the 400,000-strong membership of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a traditionalist group that is not actually a member of the Anglican Communion that most Anglicans belong to. It is sometimes presented as a bloc whose transfer will be an important event.

Even though the TAC left the Anglican Communion two decades ago, it could be quite important to the Roman Catholic Church if that many Anglicans (of whatever standing) came knocking on the door seeking entry. And the sight of so many switching to Rome could also have an indirect impact on the Anglican Communion. St. Peter's Basilica, 3 Nov 2008/Tom Heneghan

St. Peter's Basilica, 3 Nov 2008/Tom Heneghan

But those TAC members, even if their total does add up to 400,000, are so widely spread out that they might actually  have only a small local impact if and when they “swim the Tiber.” The Church Times has a breakdown of the TAC membership that shows that 92% of the communion’s members live in India and Africa. The largest congregation, the 130,000 reported in India, might seem like an impressive number in Britain, but it’s small by subcontinental standards.  The numbers in Britain and Europe (1,800), Canada (2,000) or the United States (2,500) are really small. Even if all members join at the same time, it may not seem like they are joining en bloc.

Searching for clues from the Roman Catholic-Anglican summit

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There wasn’t much information in the official communique after Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams met at the Vatican on Saturday. The terse text mentioned “cordial discussions” about challenges facing Christians, the need to cooperate and their intention to continue bilateral theological dialogue. The only reference to the issue of the day, Benedict’s offer to take alienated Anglicans into the Catholic Church, was mentioned in passing as “recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.” Hmm, pretty thin pickings….
The Pravda-like opaqueness of the communique (read it here) prompted me to zoom in on the photographs we got from the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano for any other clues there. Let’s see if they help as we go along. The “pope’s paper” (here in PDF) published the communique at the bottom of its front page, below two articles on the pope’s meeting with artists and one on Iran’s nuclear program. An interesting hint at the Vatican’s priorities that day.

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Given this thin statement, our news story led off: “The archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict agreed the need for closer ties between their churches on Saturday, in their first meeting since last month’s surprise Vatican offer to disaffected Anglicans.” Read the whole story here.

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Williams later spoke to the BBC (starting at 33:19) and Vatican Radio. He told the BBC that the meeting “went as well as I could have hoped, really.” He said he expressed Anglican concerns at the way the pope’s offer — officially called an “apostolic constitution” — was handled and the two then looked ahead to future ecumenical discussions.

Vatican’s Anglican plan won’t alter celibacy for most priests

benedict-waveThe Vatican said on Monday its plan to allow married Anglican priests to convert to Catholicism does not signal any change to its age-old rule of celibacy for the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests. It set out its position in a preface to Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” (Groups of Anglicans) regulating the admission of Anglican converts to Catholicism, including married priests and bishops.

“The possibility envisioned by the Apostolic Constitution for some married clergy within the Personal Ordinariates (the structure for ex Anglicans) does not signify any change in the Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy,” it said. (Photo: Pope Benedict, 4 Nov 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

The Vatican announced last month an initiative to make it easier for conservative Anglicans who feel their church has become too liberal to convert to Catholicism. This stirred widespread speculation on what it could eventually mean for the celibacy rule in the Roman Catholic church. There was also speculation about whether men who had left the Catholic priesthood to marry and later became Anglicans could return to the Catholic priesthood and remain married.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

Will Queen Elizabeth give the pope a warm welcome next year?

queenOne can guess what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will say to Pope Benedict when the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion travels to the Vatican later this year. The more interesting question might be what  Queen Elizabeth is likely to say when she hosts the pope next year. (Photo: Queen Elizabeth, 13 June 2009/Luke MacGregor)

The timing of the trips couldn’t be more intriguing, especially the second one. The pope is due to visit Britain in September 2010 and is expected to preside there over the beatification of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, a famous 19th-century convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

The queen is, after all, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, many of whose flock the pope is seeking to poach with his offer last week allowing Anglicans to convert en masse while keeping many of their traditions. And among her honorifics is “Defender of the Faith.” While that sounds impressive, it pales in comparison to Benedict’s long string of titles including “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.” But oneupmanship is a British sport, so one never knows how these things can turn out.

Pope opening to Anglicans may help married priesthood

bishop-family (Photo: Anglican Bishop of London Richard Chartres with wife and children, 5 Sept 1995/Russell Boyce. Under the Vatican offer, bishops could not be married and Anglican bishops who join the Catholic Church must give up their episcopal rank.)

Pope Benedict’s decision to fling open Catholicism’s doors to disaffected Anglicans could challenge centuries of Catholic opposition to married priests and may bring the Church closer to married priesthood.

The opening announced last week could lead to as many as half a million Anglican faithful, some 50 of their bishops and thousands of married Anglican priests converting to Catholicism.

The conservative Anglicans, who oppose female priesthood and gay bishops, now have an exit strategy. They will have their own niche within the Catholic Church and will be allowed to convert as individuals, parishes or even as whole dioceses.