Catholic Herald Reporter
THE Anglican Church is to
consider extending the number of circumstances in which members of other Christian denominations can receive communion in its churches.
This was announced this week by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York who have appointed a special commission to study the matter. Their move is thought to have an important bearing on unity, particularly in view of the proposed merger with the Methodist Church. The Church of England does not now permit members of other denominations to receive communion in its churches except under unusual circumstances.
These arc: when in danger of death ; when cut off by distance from their own churches ; at special unity services.
Next month (May 18-20) the Anglican Convocations of Canterbury and York will meet in London to vote on whether or not to go ahead with the Anglican-Methodist unity moves. They will discuss the results of votes taken in deaneries and parishes throughout the country during the past few months.
The Methodist conference, in turn, will meet in July to discuss the same proposals. Both will cover four main points :
1 Is the unity of the two Churches desirable?
2 Are the present proposals adequate and acceptable? 3 Are investigations and discussions of more advanced points now in order?
4 Is the Service of Reconciliation (a ceremony to bring the two churches together) acceptable?
Representatives of the two Churches have been meeting for the past 10 years. In 1963 they drew up an outline for unity in two stages:
The first stage would begin with the Service of Reconciliation held at centres throughout the country for all the clergy of both denominations.
Some Anglicans would regard the Service of Reconciliation as a re-ordination of the Methodist ministers. Most Methodists, on the other hand. would not like to consider it that, for they regard their ministers as already validly ordained.
The Church of England's official policy on the Service of Reconciliation is that the individual participating could interpret it however he liked.
During the service Anglicans and Methodists would agree to recognise each other. The next step would he for some ministers chosen by the Methodist Church to he consecrated bishops by the Anglicans, and they would ordain all future Methodist ministers.
The two Churches would then share in each other's services and be free to receive communion in each other's churches, while still remaining distinct.
After several years they would launch Stage Two—a complete merger into one Church. This would require the Church of England to cut some of its ties with the Government. Establishment would have to be seriously reduced so that the new united Church could he as free from State control as, for example, the Church of Scotland is.
Several Methodists have already objected to the whole suggestion. Their main difficulty is having bishops. which they feel goes against the idea of the New Testament by making the Church too institutional.
Secondly. although the Service of Reconciliation is supposed to be open to various interpretations, they do not see how it could be regarded as anything but re-ordination of their ministers. And that to them is completely unacceptable.
If a number of Methodists voice these objections during their conference in July, the chances of unity in the near future will diminish, even if the Anglicans vote next month to go ahead.
But if both do approve the proposals, what will be the implications for unity for the rest of Christianity?
On the one hand, an AnglicanMethodist merger will pull together two widely differing traditions. Other unions during recent years have always been between churches of the same general background and outlook.
On the other hand, a revised form of communion may make it difficult for Methodists to continue their relationship with other Free Churches. And Anglicans may find it difficult to continue intercommunion with Old Catholics.
Countless practical problems remain and many others will arise. The two churches must work out new structures, redraw diocesan and parish boundaries, decide on which church buildings remain and which can be abandoned. And it is on some of these non-theological issues that the greatest heat may be generated.