The C of E General Synod in recent days has debated and welcomed a report on greater cooperation and communion between English Anglicans and Methodists. Welcoming reports is a synodical thing. Nothing actually changes. But, potentially, a welcomed report could lead to change and thus the welcome step could be part of a historical journey. Or the end of the matter.
Here in ACANZP a few years back we announced to a great flourish of trumpets that we had a new covenant with NZ Methodists. Of course, in terms of actual change, such as the Holy Grail of Mutual Recognition of Orders, there was and still is, precisely, none.
Ian Paul has a couple of insightful posts about the possibility of Methodist orders of ministry being recognised by Anglicans, here and here. Reports on the GS debate on the report are here and here. A guest post on Cranmer is here. Quite a lot of discussion has been generated and quite a few theological issues are involved.
Here I do not have time to delve into these matters save for the few remarks I now make; but your comments would be welcomed.
(1) Anglicans generally seem keen on greater communion with other churches.
(2) Great energy has been expended on the possibility of greater communion with the Roman Catholic church. There is a natural fit in that direction because both churches are committed to the historic episcopate and thus both churches have similar commitments to (putting it bluntly) bishops' hands being laid on heads to make deacons and priests; and to bishops and priests presiding over the eucharist. There is the little (but so far "yuge") matter of whether we accept each other's historic episcopate and accept each other's eucharistic prayers. Despite the immense energy and time put into Anglican-Roman Catholic relationships not one bit of actual change re orders and communion has changed. Nevertheless there has been significant change in the past 50 years or so in respect of general relationships between the churches, and this week, in many parts of Aotearoa New Zealand there will be joint (non-eucharistic) services for the Imposition of Ashes.
(3) Considerable energy has been expended on the possibility of greater communion with the Methodist church, driven, it seems, by a kind of guilt that (putting it bluntly) the Church of England in the late 18th century failed its own members who left to form the Methodist church. Rehearsing the story of the beginnings of Methodism we ask whether it was necessary for Methodism to begin separated from the mother Anglican church and thus it is inherently plausible that we could be reunited as one family of English Protestants. But this Anglo-Methodist longing for re-communion in the 20th and 21st centuries meets the Anglo-Catholic part of the Anglican church (in England, and here) and that has not been a happy meeting. Anglo-Catholic resistance to a marriage with Methodism is twofold (as I understand it).
First, Anglo-Catholicism emphasises and explains episcopal ministry in such a manner that the Methodist account of its own episcopal ministry falls short of being a proper episcopal ministry. Secondly, Anglo-Catholicism is very interested in communion with Rome and thus is very hesitant about varying Anglican understanding of orders of ministry (e.g. if we were to accept Methodist presbyters as full presbyters of our church without their being ordained (again) by an Anglican bishop). Such a variation would be an impediment to union with Rome.
(4) I do not want to pit relationships with Rome versus relationships with Methodism - I am keen on communion with both. But I ask why, if I were to go to a Methodist church and share in their communion as a genuine communion with Christ within the body of Christ I would then devalue the orderliness of the Methodist church, an orderliness due to their understanding of episcopal and presbyteral ministry, by refusing to receive Methodist presbyters into this church as full presbyters in the church of God?
[A few caveats:
A. I am aware that not all Methodist communion services would be experienced by me as "genuine communion with Christ" communion services because there is freedom for Methodist presbyters (at least in NZ) to write their own communion services and the content of the eucharistic prayer of such a service might or might not be agreeable to me. I once had experience of such a prayer which completely omitted any aspect of remembering our Lord's death ...
B. In the last paragraph I deliberately omitted admittance of "Methodist bishops" (again, at least here in NZ, there are variations re episcopacy across world Methodism) because, as I understand things, Methodist episcopacy is expressed through a person holding non-permanent office, i.e. the office of Methodist President.]