By k John Coventry, 11
ANGLICAN arithmetic, a
leading Anglican once remarked, is rather unusual: for the Church of England is composed of a solid 75 per cent. centre, with 25 per cent. divided between those of strongly Catholic and strongly Evangelical view, each of which claims to represent 50 per cent. of the whole.
These figures seem to have been fairly accurately reflected in the voting in the Convocations on July 8, when the scheme for Anglican-Methodist reunion gained only 69 per cent. of the votes. instead of the 75 per cent. previously agreed on by both churches as necessary for acceptance. On the same day and at the same hour it gained a 77 per cent. vote at the Methodist Conference,
The majority of Catholics will surely he very sad at this result, as indeed the majority of Anglicans and Methodists demonstrably are. This reaction comes not merely from knowing the great and long labours that lie behind this effort at reunion. for the scheme is the fruit of ten years of planning. Nor is it merely that every success in this field is a victory for Christ over our divisions. as Fr. "I ucci said at the World Council of Churches Assembly last year.
The Retormation occasioned a developing history of divisions and there is great hope for the future union of the Churches in the whole process of their healing. Furthermore this particular split took place so recently as Christian history goes, and here in England, and so unnecessarily as both parties now agree; so that one cannot help feeling, if this reunion cannot come about, what can?
Finally. Catholic opinion will be grateful for the overwhelming vote given by the Methodists for the acceptance of episcopacy, and will be correspondingly sad that (litre cultie.s against acceptance have proved too strong on the Anglican side—at any rate for the moment. Yet the Commission who produced the Scheme must surely be congratulated warmly on securing such a large majority vote in its favour.
Cause of trouble
One will not break any bones by saying that it is hard enough to produce a scheme about anything that will secure a 69 per cent vote from the Church of England alone. If it has also, at the same time, to secure an overwhelming vote of confidence from a Protestant Church, and to at least not impair Anglican-Roman relations, it would seem almost to be attempting the impossible.
Yet this is what this scheme has done. And what other proposals would be at all likely to secure such a good result? Surely not the South India pattern. And what else has been proposed by those who have rejected the current scheme? What pattern is not going to be either too Protestant for Catholics or too Catholic for Protestants?
The Scheme provided for two stages. and not for immediate union. In Stage One the two Churches would remain separate. but would acknowledge each other's ministry and be free to exchange ministers and cooperate in other ways (though individual ministers would also be free in conscience to decline such exchange): the Churches would be in communion with each other. and all ministers henceforth would he episcopally ordained.
Only in Stage Two, which
could be a generation later, when they had got used to each other and fused more and more on the human level, would complete reunion into one Church come. Stage One was to be inaugurated by a Service of Reconciliation.
It is this that has caused the trouble. The Anglican rejection (if so large a majority in favour can be called a rejection) is not of reunion with the Methodists—which all want— hut of the Service of Reconciliation. Catholic Anglicans saw this Service as recognising Methodist ministers to be priests without their being conditionally ordained by a bishop, and so as deserting the Catholic tradition of the Church of England. Conservative Evangelical opinion thinks that episcopacy is a laudable method of Church government, but not theologically necessary because not founded in Scripture; Methodist ministry should be recognised forthwith without an ambiguous Service which could suggest they were not fully ministers of God's Church already.
The decisive vote on July 8 lay in the hands of the two Convocations of Canterbury and York, meeting, together, i.e. in the hands of the clergy, to whom alone it belongs in the constitution of the Church of England to decide matters involving doctrine.
How bishops voted
Each Convocation is composed of an tipper House of diocesan bishops and a Lower House drawn from ex-officio and elected members of the rest of the clergy—an arrangement which. oddly, leaves out the suffragan bishops. It is to he noted that, of 43 diocesan bishops, 38 voted for The scheme, so the bishops are 88 per cent in favour, which is bound to effect subsequent moves.
Without mentioning this already known fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a strong plea to Convocation to exercise a quality of leadership which the occasion demanded of them. rather than merely to follow the 'plebiscites' that had already taken place—in the House of Laity. and in a general clergy referendum. neither of which had showed a sufficiently high majority in favour. However 111 out of the other 225 clergy, in the two Lower Houses, voted against.
Some voted against the scheme, not because they personally disapproved of it, hut because of the size of the known opposition. Such voting. however, makes the opposition look larger than it is. They thought the scheme would produce divisions in the Church of England and bring a crisis of conscience to too many, even if one can never expect 100 per cent; some other scheme, even more generally acceptable, must he worked out.
Others, among them Archbishop Ramsey, argued that these divisions existed already; to reject the scheme would produce new divisions of a totally different kind; none of the opponents of the scheme had ever proposed a viable alternative.
There is something more to the Anglican Evangelical opposition than thinking the Service of Reconciliation unnecessary. The Scheme agrees that Methodists would in the future accept episcopal ordination. (There is nothing in the history of Methodism against such a course of action.)
if episcopacy were unnecessarily forced on Methodists, the same pattern would have to prevail for Presbyterians. Congregationalists and Baptiets, to name no others, and they would not, and should not be asked, to accept it.
However. if the scheme had gone through, the Evangelicals would not have had grounds for not co-operating once their Church had accepted it, nor would they have been confronted with any crisis of conscience in so doing.
Catholic Anglicans were in a harder position. If the Scheme had gone through, some would have seen this as God's will and complied; some. especially of the clergy, would have agreed to differ and faced an embarrassing, a diminishing and an unrewarding future within their own Church; perhaps a few would have felt they were forced out What are we to say of their reasons?
The present validity of An glican Orders does not come into it. The point is whether the Church of England recognises the necessity of episcopal ordination for a true ministry. It is obvious, from what has been said about Evangelicals, that many do not. But personal opinions are one thine and official acts of the Church another: and hitherto Anelicans have always insisted on episcopal ordination.
This difficulty has been answered his some (including Roman Catholic theologians) as follows. The Reconciliation Service is not to be called an ordination. even conditional. as the Methodists understandably would not accent this. But it includes the ordination prayer from the new Ordinal (which is in itself an adequate rite for the conferring of priesthood).
Hence it could be thought of and intended as an ordination by The bishops administering it. What. then of the intention of the recipients? Well, a prayer is included that asks God to bestow what he knows any of them (both Anglicans and Methodists) need for his service as Bishops or Presbyters in his universal Church; and this sufficiently expresses the intention of receiving the sacrament of order.
For validity of a sacrament minimal, not maximal, conditions are required. In any case,
the service is not to been in isolation as if all depended on its wording: it would take place within the context of each Church accepting, and wishing to be accepted by, the other. There are conscious ambiguities in the Service, but !there are none 'in this wider reconciliation.
Catholic Anglicans, however, are not satisfied. The scheme also includes agreed doctrinal statements, some of which reflect Protestant theology. They feel that to proceed to Stage One. which involves commitment to Stage Two. implies formal recognition of these theological views. (Others do not think it does.)
These views are known to be quite widely held in the Church of England, but Catholic Anglicans do not want them to secure even an appearance of official recognition that they consider them to lack at present At this point a Roman Catholic will be likely to feel that the issue has ceased to be a truly theological one and has become a matter of the domestic affairs of the Church of England.
Methodists do not hold any doctrines not already quite widely held by Anglicans. There would be some advantage of clarity in bringing this doctrinal "spectrum" into the open, and this would not adversely affect Roman-Anglican relations, which must he with all the world-wide Anglican Communion.
Element of anarchy
Many warnings were given in advance of the probable effects of turning down the proposals. In many parishes Anglicans and Methodists have already fused a good deal, and they will not go back. They are more likely to go it alone, and introduce an element of anarchy into the not-too-rigid structures of Anglican government.
The Archbishop of York told Convocation that a great number of young people would, after all these years of talk, simply write off the Church or Churches in any shape or form.
In speaking to the press after the vote Archbishop Ramsey dropped a broad hint that perhaps 69 per cent was enough after all; that, at least in his view, Anglicans should now adopt the scheme rather than waste further time and good will in sterile debate. The bishops are 88 per cent in favour. It is a great test for leadership and for the place, in practice. of episcopacy in the Church of England.
Much of this article has necessarily been about the Anglicans. We must not forget the Methodists. They are a smaller Church. It was their Church that gradually separated from the mother Church of England in the first place. They face, if the scheme goes forward, a certain loss of their identity, if not of their spiritual and evangelistic mission; 'they face the strong probability of a small dissident group contracting out and persisting as the 'true' British Methodism.
And yet They gave an overwhelming vote for union. A "no" to the scheme threatens them with near chaos in their administration, long geared to a "yes". Their offer of fellowship still ties on the table.