LONDON, DEC. 13, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Church of England and the Methodist church have published a covenant that could lead to unity within a decade, the Guardian newspaper reported.
In a joint statement, the two churches spoke of a common ground “rediscovered.”
They claimed the validity of each other´s doctrines and committed themselves to overcoming obstacles to the “full visible unity of Christ´s church” for the first time since Methodism was founded more than 250 years ago.
If both churches´ representative bodies — the Church of England synod and the Methodist conference — give their consent to the covenant next year, fuller discussions could lead to unity by the end of the decade.
The Right Reverend Barry Rogerson, Anglican bishop of Bristol, who co-chaired talks between the two churches over three years, said: “This is a significant step forward and continues a process which could well change the face of English Christianity — which would be in obedience to God´s gift and calling.”
His opposite number, the Reverend John Taylor, chairman of the Liverpool Methodist district, said: “For years at grass-roots level [we] have recognized each other as true Christians. It is no big deal that the Church of England and the Methodist church should at last be able to recognize each other officially.”
The move toward unity offers the churches advantages in terms of boosting numbers and combining facilities.
Methodist numbers peaked nearly a century ago and, although the church recognizes about 1 million people as members, only 300,000 are active members. The Church of England nowadays has fewer than 1 million worshippers on Sundays, though it claims more than half the population as nominal adherents.
Methodism, pioneered by the Wesley brothers and others in the mid-18th century, gradually broke away from the established Church of England and became in time hostile to it. Reunification would be the most significant expansion of the Anglican Communion for generations.
Doctrinally there are few differences between the two churches.
Many Methodist and Anglican parishes share facilities and priests, and ministers train together in some places. The covenant states that both will affirm that each church “authentically” preaches the word of God and that each will recognize the validity of each other´s ordained ministries.
Potential stumbling blocks remain, however — in the shape of the Church of England´s position as the established church, the Methodists´ insistence that all church offices are open equally to men and women, and even concerns about whether the communion wine should be alcoholic or not.