WAITING AT LAMBETH AFTER ONE of the most momentous weeks in Anglican history, the Bishops and laity of the Church of England now have just to sit and wait (writes Alan Jackson).
Not until July 2, when the Methodist Conference meets at Plymouth, will the Church of England he absolutely sure that the Methodists will give the same overwhelming vote to an Anglican-Methodist marriage as the Anglicans themselves gave at the Convocations of Canterbury and York last week.
Certainly, so far as most Methodist leaders are concerned, there is no need for Anglican concern. They regard Methodist acceptance of the marriage as fairly much a foregone conclusion. But there are pressure groups among the Methodists who intend to put up a big fight.
If the proposals for reunion of the two churches are accepted by the Methodists, there will he some very ti icky questions to be ironed out by the joint negotiating body which is to be set up.
Possibly the biggest issue before the Joint Commission will be the proposed Service of Reconciliation whereby existing ministries will be integrated. Time and time again this Service was raised during the
Convocations' debate. It was said to be ambiguous in the sense that it was not clear whether it provided for ordination or not.
One speaker said it lacked pastoral and evangelical concern. Another said 28 clergymen in his area had said they would not take part in such a rite. A third said it was based on false assumptions. The Dean of Carlisle, the Very Rev. L. du Toit, said the Service was the most crucial of all the questions raised and in spite of many attempts to clarify its meaning it still remained a matter of uncertainty and mystification.
The key question is whether the Service constitutes an ordination or not in that part of it which concerns the ministers of the two Churches. The Service is to be carried out through representative persons, ministerial and lay, and is designed to effect the reconciliation of the Churches as corporate bodies. It involves a prayer, followed by the silent laying-on of hands on each minister.
According to joint committees of the two Convocations which ascertained the views of clergy and laity in all 43 Anglican dioceses on the unity proposals, the prayer is sufficient in form and matter for an ordination, if God requires it, and can be made with the same certainty of an effectual response as a similar solemn prayer at an ordination service.
Several speakers in the Convocations, however, did not agree, and one of the tasks of the proposed Joint Commission will be to "recommend the final form of the Service of Reconciliation, and arrange for the preparation of an Ordinal to be used in both Churches from the beginning of Stage 1".
Another big issue for the Joint Commission will be the question of the Establishment, or the Church of England to the State. In the view of some Anglicans, full implementation of the Anglican-Methodist unity proposals will mean the end of the Establishment of the Church of England as it is known today, and may even mean the end of Establishment altogether.
'Whilst all these matters are for the future, observers who attended the Anglican convocations are still discussing the way in which many Anglican eyes during the debates "turned very often towards Rome".
Dr. John Moorman, the Bishop of Ripon, who has been an Anglican observer at the Vatican Council, said he was often asked how the Anglican Methodist proposals were likely to affect the Church of England's relations wth Rome. He had consulted a number of Roman Catholic theologians in this country who cared a great deal about the suggested relations and were looking to The Anglican Church for help.
On the proposals in general and the proposed Service of Reconciliation they had all expressed hope, he said, but one had stated that what was being said about changing the word 'priest' and removing reference to "forgiveness of sins" in the Ordinal (which contains the form of appointment to an order of ministry in the Church) filled them with dismay.
Dr. Moorman said he hoped all members of the Joint Commission which will study various points of doctrine would heed these words from the Roman Catholics "for greater issues are at stake than the union of the Church of England with the Methodist Church in this country".
The Bishop of Bristol, Dr. Oliver Tomkins, said that during a recent visit to Rome he had been struck by the disciplined urgency that existed in the matter of Christian unity. He hoped that the period of life of the Joint Commission would be creatively used.
Representatives of all points of view held in the Church of England should be able to make their views known in the forming of any plan, he said, and, bearing in mind other current movements between different Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, should be invited to send observers to the meetings of the Joint Commission.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey, further touched on the wider ecumenical scene in a speech after the Convocations had voted. Describing their decision as "full of immense hope", he said, "What has been done and decided today is one part in the recovery of unity of Christians everywhere.
"We remind ourselves that the appeal of all Christian people issued by the (Anglican) Lambeth Conference in 1920 went to all churches, including the Church of Rome as well as all Protestant churches. It is within that total process that the decision of today takes a significant place."