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Formal Conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church

The final report of formal conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church will be published in December, following consideration of a draft text by the appropriate bodies within each church during the coming months. Publication in December will allow Methodists and Anglicans time to study the final report before its first consideration by the Methodist Conference in June 2002 and the General Synod in July 2002.

The General Synod of the Church of England1 and the Methodist Conference2 initiated formal Conversations in response to Commitment to Mission and Unity which was published in September 1996.

The specific mandate given to those conducting the Formal Conversations was to draw up a Common Statement which would include: -
- a description of visible unity including a common profession of the apostolic faith in word and deed
- an exploration of outstanding differences between the two churches
- a Declaration of acknowledgements and commitments
The Declaration would include: -
- a statement of repentance for the separation of the two churches
- mutual acknowledgement of one another's churches as belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and truly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God
- mutual acknowledgement that in both churches the Word of God is authentically preached and the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist are duly administered
- mutual acknowledgement of one another's ordained ministers as given by God and as instruments of his grace (This mutual acknowledgement would act as a means of moving towards the reconciliation and interchangeability of ministries that would ultimately result in a common ministry.)
- a commitment to act together
- a commitment to share ministries of oversight
- a commitment, whenever appropriate, to take decisions together.

If entered into, the formal acknowledgements would provide a firm foundation on which to build in future. The solemn commitments to act together would help to ensure a real deepening of relationship. A particular commitment to share ministries of oversight, involving a commitment to take decisions together wherever appropriate, would sustain and strengthen this new relationship and help to lead the churches on towards a fully reconciled
life and reconciled ministry.

The Formal Conversations began work in February 1999. The group has now completed its draft report. This addresses the specific mandate which it was given and includes the declarations, acknowledgements and commitments which will enable a new relationship between the two churches as a stage on the way to visible unity. Appropriate bodies within each church will consider the draft text during the coming months before the final publication of the report in early December. This will allow Methodists and Anglicans time to study it before its first consideration by the Methodist Conference in June 2002 and the General Synod in July 2002. It is hoped that both bodies will commend the report for consideration throughout the two churches and, reporting back, for final decision. It is further hoped that ecumenical partners will also respond.
ends

Notes
1 The General Synod is the governing body of the Church of England.
2 The Methodist Conference is the governing body of the Methodist Church.
Background
Within the common search for Christian unity, relations between Anglicans and Methodists have been particularly close. In 1946 Dr Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached his Cambridge sermon, asking the Free Churches to 'take episcopacy into their system'. This led to the report entitled Church Relations in England (1950). The only church which formally responded to the call was the Methodist church. This led to the proposals for Anglican-Methodist unity, which envisaged union by two stages. Stage One involved a reconciliation of churches and ministries with a Methodist episcopate working in parallel with Anglican bishops. Stage Two envisaged total union. These proposals, though approved by the Methodist Conference, failed to achieve a sufficient majority in the Church of England in 1972. Nevertheless, there were some positive consequences:
a) the Church of England, through its canon law (Canon B15A), extended eucharistic hospitality to communicant members of other churches;
b) in 1978 the General Synod of the Church of England declared that it required no further doctrinal assurances from the Methodist Church beyond those it had already received through the Methodist approval of the Anglican-Methodist plan of unity;
c) growing co-operation developed through Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) in many places.
In 1994 it was agreed that there should be Informal Conversations between the Methodist Church and the Church of England. Commitment to Mission and Unity is the report of those Conversations and was published in 1996.

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