In 1946 Archbishop Fisher invited the Free Churches to consider taking episcopacy into their system. Only the Methodists responded positively to this and conversations began in 1955, with 12 Anglicans and 12 Methodists led by Bishop Bell and Dr Harold Roberts. By 1958 they were ready to propose that the two Churches should unite their ministries on an episcopal basis. Their 1963 Report included a strong Methodist 'Dissentient' section, resulting in the formation of groups such as the 'Voice of Methodism' opposed to the proposals, which they saw as a take-over of Methodism, and especially the 'Service of Reconciliation' as implying re-ordination. The eventual Scheme of 1968 was accepted by the Methodist Conference, but did not gain the required 75% majority in the Anglican General Synod, either in 1969 or 1972, because of the combined opposition of Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. Since then, despite the failure of the 1980 Covenant proposals (involving other Free Churches), there has been some local growing together, e.g. through Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs).
A new round of exploratory talks in 1995-96, co-chaired by the Rt. Rev. David Tustin, Bishop of Grimsby, and Brian E. Beck, led to the report 'Commitment to Mission and Unity'. This paved the way for the resolutions in the General Synod of the Church of England and the Methodist Conference in 1997-98 to set up a process of Formal Conversations, co-chaired by the Rt. Rev. Barry Rogerson, Bishop of Bristol, and the Rev. Dr. John B. Taylor. The resulting report, An Anglican-Methodist Covenant, was published in 2001, setting out a 'Common Statement' and proposing that a new relationship be initiated in the form of a Covenant, consisting of a preamble and mutual affirmations and commitments. After full consultation, the General Synod and Conference so resolved by large majorities in 2003, and the Covenant was duly signed by the church leaders in the presence of HM the Queen on 1 November 2003 at a ceremony held at Westminster Central Hall, followed by a service at Westminster Abbey.
A Joint Implementation Commission (JIC) was set up to monitor and promote the Covenant's implementation and to make recommendations for future theological work. Its first Quinquennial report, 'Embracing the Covenant', was presented to the Conference of 2008. A second phase followed, with a second Quinquennial report in 2013, The Challenge of the Covenant: Uniting in Mission and Holiness. The Methodist Co-Chair for both these phases was Professor Peter Howdle. Following consultation on the 2013 report, the Commission brought to the Conference and to the General Synod of the Church of England in 2014 an updated report with resolutions, which were adopted by large majorities, committing the two churches, through their Faith and Order bodies, to working on 'two bold initiatives' which would address the remaining questions about interchangeability of ministries. The Commission having concluded its work, a Joint Covenant Advocacy and Monitoring Group was set up to encourage Covenant working between the two churches at all levels. In response to the 2014 resolutions, the Faith and Order bodies of the two churches, produced a report, Mission and Ministry in Covenant in 2017, which is currently the subject of consultation within and between the two churches.
We the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England, on the basis of our shared history, our full agreement in the apostolic faith, our shared theological understandings of the nature and mission of the Church and of its ministry and oversight, and our agreement on the goal of full visible unity,… hereby make the following Covenant:
Anglican-Methodist Covenant, 2001
Entry written by: JHL
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