John and Charles Wesley remained Anglican clergymen to the end, though the former's vision of Methodism as an order within the established Church became less realizable as time went on. John's own actions, not least his ordinations, hastened separation. Many of the Methodist people, converts from the new industrial populations or, later, from depressed rural society, had no allegiance to the state Church; it had not provided for them and some of its ministers repelled them from the altar. It has always been a problem for Methodism that there were those, known as 'Church Methodists' or 'Old Planners', who retained Anglican loyalties, emphasized that they were not Nonconformists, cherished Prayer Book worship and turned to the parish church for rites of passage and sometimes for the Sacrament, and others, particularly among the non-Wesleyans, who owed little to the Establishment except in many cases its contempt (in many cases, mutual).
As early as the first Conference, in 1744, the question of separation from the Church was raised. By the 1750s this had become a living issue, discussed in the Conferences, with many of the lay preachers pressing fo separation. The Rev. Samuel Walker of Truro argued strongly against separation and was at least successful in delaying it. John Wesley held the line, but at the cost of concessions and irregularities deplored by Charles Wesley. Proposals put forward by John Fletcher and Joseph Benson in 1775 with a view to keeping the Methodists within the Established Church proved stillborn. Towards the end of his life Wesley made concessions in some towns (e.g Dorking) by allowing Methodist services in 'church hours'.
In the decade after his death the gulf between 'Church Methodists' and 'new planners' widened and the nineteenth century aggravated the differences. Methodist enthusiasm and noise offended staid and sober Anglicans, seeming to vulgarize the Christian solemnities. As late as 1868 the Tractarian E.B. Pusey made fruitless overtures, but as the Oxford Movement developed into Anglo-Catholicism and the Roman hierarchy was restored, Methodists had become fearful of a Roman take-over and increasingly associated with the Nonconformists. As a counterblast to Anglican superiority, they insisted that world-wide Methodism had become far larger than Anglicanism, due to the great numbers of American Methodists and the movement's missionary successes.
Estrangement eventually gave way to 'rapprochement'. Parish church worship became more popular in form with the wider use of hymns. Christian Socialism brought Anglicans and Methodists together and those who worked in the cities and the slums were united in social concern. Whereas J.H. Rigg deplored F. D. Maurice as much as he did J.H. Newman, J.S. Lidgett was a disciple of the former and Methodists came to admire Anglicans such as Dean Church, 'the Anglican reply to Newman', with his unerring moral judgments. His lecture on Bishop Butler asserted that, in spite of his horror at claims to special inspiration, Butler had anticipated 'all that was deepest and truest in the Methodist appeal to the heart'. The opening of the ancient universities to non-Anglicans was a decisive step. Shared scholarship meant shared understanding. The revision of the AV in the 1880s brought together Anglican biblical scholars and the Methodist William F. Moulton.
Re-union, however, remained a distant prospect. In 1917 the Bishops meeting in the Lambeth Conference sent two of their number as a delegation to the WM Conference to explore the possibility of a union. The response, influenced by the arch-Methodist layman Robert W. Perks and misgivings about re-ordination, was lukewarm and no immediate rapprochement occurred.
In the long term, the Anglican-Methodist Conversations, following Archbishop Fisher's Cambridge University sermon in 1946, were almost inevitable. Since the failure of the Scheme and the subsequent proposal of 'Covenanting for Unity' (though not necessarily in consequence) both Churches have declined. Due to the divisions in, and decline of, Anglo-Catholicism and the predominance of Anglican evangelicalism, the agenda is now less dominated by questions of ministry.
'Q.9: Do we separate from the Church? A. We conceive not. We hold communion therewith for conscience' sake, by constantly attending both the Word preached, and the Sacraments administered therein. Q.10: What then do they mean who say, You separate from the Church? A. We cannot certainly tell. Perhaps they have no deteminate meaning; unless by the Church they mean themselves, i.e. that part of the clergy who acuse us of preaching false doctrine. And it is sure we do herein separate from them by maintaining the doctrine which they deny… Q.12: Do you not entail a schism in the Church i.e., Is it not probable that your hearers after your death will be scattered into all sects and parties? Or that they will form themselves into a distinct sect? A. (1) We are persuaded, the body of our hearers will even after our death remain in the Church, unles they be thrust out. (2) We believe notwithstanding either that they will be thrust out, or that they will leaven the whole Church. (3) We do, and will do, all we can to prevent these consequences which are supposed likely to happen after our death. (4) But we cannot with good conscience neglect the present opportunity of saving souls while we live, for fear of consequences which may possibly or probably happen after we are dead.
Minutes of the Conference, 1744
Sir James Graham to Sir Robert Peel: 'Wesleyan opinion … marks distinctly a wide estrangement from the Church. It is quite clear that the Pusey tendencies of the Established Church have operated powerfully on the Wesleyans and are converting them rapidly into enemies.'
Quoted by E.Gordon Rupp in The Listener, 17 March 1955