Following some years of ecumenical co-operation among the churches in Ireland, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Church of Ireland formed a Tripartite Consultation in 1968.
By 1988, it was proposed to move from unity consultation to theological working party. The Methodist Church and the Church of Ireland approved the proposal, but the Presbyterian Church decided to withdraw entirely from theological discussion.
In 1989, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland and the Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland agreed to establish a Joint Theological Working Party (JTWP) with a remit which included instructions:
• To consider the implications of the work of the Tripartite Consultation in the new bilateral context • To relate the work of the proposed Anglican-Methodist International Commission to Anglican/Methodist relations in Ireland
The churches recognised a shared history, with new appreciation and understanding of the factors which had led to the parting of ways between the Church of England and ‘the people called Methodists’ in the eighteenth century.
By 1999, new terms of reference were ratified, and the governing bodies endorsed the work of the JTWP, encouraging it to ‘hasten forward’. Following a residential meeting, a draft Covenant emerged, and an initial draft was presented to the General Synod and the Conference of 2000. Following local consultation and revision, at the final vote in 2002, the Synod passed the resolution ‘to enter into a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church in Ireland’ unanimously. The Methodist Conference passed the same resolution in respect of the Church of Ireland with an overwhelming majority. The JTWP stood down in 2003, having set in place the Covenant Council.
The issue of episcope, with attendant implications for interchangeability of ministries, became the focus of the theological work of the Council. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Council presented a series of documents on episcope leading to a 2010 document, ‘Agreed principles on the Interchangeability of Ministries’.
It was recommended that a date be set by which there be
• Mutual involvement in the consecration of Bishops and dedication of Presidents. • Consequential interchangeable ministry. • Mutual celebration and affirmation of the presbyteral ministry of all of those ordained in both Churches, including those duly ordained in the past.
The governing bodies received the recommendation warmly as they did a second Statement presented in 2011.
By 2013, the Methodist Church had agreed an Order of Service for the Installation of the President of the Methodist Church which recognised the role of President as ‘Episcopal Minister’ noting that, though the language was new, the concept was not.
The Church of Ireland had worked on a Bill recognising personal, communal and collegial episcope in the polity of the Methodist Church and, in particular, the office and function of the President as ‘Episcopal Minister’.
Following the passing of the final stages of that Bill at the General Synod of 2014, the way was open for the installation of the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland as an Episcopal Minister. At Conference 2014, three bishops of the Church of Ireland were among those laying hands on the incoming President. The process was completed in 2015 when the President and two former Presidents were among those laying hands on the incoming Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe.
Practical issues of interchangeability require ongoing attention. However, two things are clear: • An ordained presbyter/priest of either church may administer Holy Communion in the other Church according to either rite or ceremony; • A presbyter/priest of one church ministering in the context of the other will be treated as being within the order and discipline of both churches
A group of leaders from each church is currently involved in identifying those issues which need the most urgent attention in order that the Covenant relationship may advance smoothly.
Throughout the entire journey, the reports to the governing bodies have urged that the two churches should embrace, in word and spirit, the opportunities offered by this special relationship. The Council urges the churches to celebrate this special relationship and particularly on 24 May, the date observed by ‘the people called Methodists’ as that on which John Wesley felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’
The Covenant between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland
1 We acknowledge one another's churches as belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and as truly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.
2 We acknowledge that in each of our churches the Word of God is authentically preached and the sacraments of baptism and holy communion authentically administered according to the command of Christ.
3 We acknowledge that both our churches share in a common faith set forth in the scriptures and summarised in the historic creeds.
4 We acknowledge our common inheritance in traditions of spirituality
and liturgy .We rejoice in our diversity from which we may mutually benefit as we continue to develop varied forms of worship as appropriate to different situations.
5 We acknowledge each other's ordained ministries as given by God and as instruments of his grace by which our churches are served and built up. As pilgrims together, we look forward to the time when our ministries can be fully interchangeable and our churches visibly united.
6 We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight is embodied and practised in both churches, as each seeks to express continuity of apostolic life, mission and ministry.
We believe that God is calling our two churches to a fuller relationship in which we commit ourselves • to share a common life and mission. • to grow together so that unity may be visibly realized.
As the next steps towards that goal, we agree:
1 to pray for and with one another and to avail of every opportunity to
2 to welcome one another’s members to receive Holy Communion and other ministries as appropriate
3 to share resources in order to strengthen the mission of the Church
4 to help our members to appreciate and draw out the gifts which each
of our traditions has to offer the whole people of God
5 to encourage the invitation of authorised persons of each church to
minister in the other church, as far as the current disciplines of both churches permit;
6 (a) to encourage united Methodist/Church of Ireland congregations (i) where there are joint church schemes,
(ii) where new churches are to be planted, (iii) where local congregations wish to move in this direction;
(b) to encourage united Methodist / Church of Ireland chaplaincy
7 to enable a measure of joint training of candidates for ordained and
lay ministries of our churches where possible and appropriate and to encourage mutual understanding at all levels in our churches;
8 to establish appropriate forms of consultation on matters of faith and
order, mission and service;
9 to participate as observers by invitation in each other's forms of
governance at every possible level;
10 to learn more about the practice of oversight in each other’s churches
in order to achieve a fuller sharing of ministries at a later stage of our relationship.