by Peter Menkin
In an historic move, the Methodist Church in Great Britain “is on its way to rejoining the Church of England…” The “Telegraph” newspaper report from the United Kingdom by Martin Beckford goes on to say, “The head of the non-conformist denomination said it was ready to come back to the national church after 200 years apart, if it would help spread the word of God.”
The paper’s report of February 13, 2010 continues:
The Rev David Gamble, president of the Methodist Conference, told General
Synod, the Church of England’s governing body on Thursday: "We are prepared to
go out of existence not because we are declining or failing in mission, but for
the sake of mission.
"In other words, we are prepared to be changed and even to cease having a separate existence as a Church if that will serve the needs of the Kingdom."
In the United States, and specifically as well in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, The Episcopal Church USA is in Communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. This means Lutherans may take Communion at Episcopal churches, as may Episcopalians freely take Communion in Lutheran churches.
At the Church this writer attends, who may take Communion is a controversial topic. Church of Our Saviour (Episcopal), Mill Valley, California, located north of San Francisco
debated the subject and decided they would publish a statement in their Sunday bulletin, every Sunday. It says, “everybody…” is welcome at God’s table, but reminds the visitor that instruction for Baptism is readily available and freely offered. Controversial a statement as this may be, no one at most Churches finds themselves “carded” when coming for Communion.
(Carded means asked for proof of Church membership, or of Baptism. The Episcopal rule is one must be Baptized to receive Communion, by the way.)
Roman Catholic Communion services require a visitor be a Roman Catholic to receive Communion, which annoys many people as many resent the “closed” and what some call exclusive and special nature of the Roman Catholic Church and its membership—even in this post Vatican II era it is so. Of course, a blessing is offered by Roman Catholics to those visitors who attend Mass and are not Roman Catholic. This is a good thing. Other Churches,
like the Episcopalians, do so, too. They offer a blessing to the unbaptized, the real Church policy of The Episcopal Church USA, and of course within the Anglican Communion.
Apparently, British Methodists will be in Communion with the Anglican Church in England, and this significantly also means there is a special and Church recognized bond in Christ between the two Churches, just as that special bond occurs between the Lutherans and Episcopalians in the United States and specifically San Francisco’s Bay Area. Parishioners at the Mill Valley Church of Our Saviour like this situation, as it makes Christians closer in Christ.
Though this planned merger of the Methodists with The Church of England is not completed, the intention is real. The “Telegraph” continues:
It is believed Methodists have now recovered from (a) hurt…caused (in 1972 over women priests), there are fewer grounds on which traditionalists in the Church of England can object to unity as it introduced female priests in 1994 and is likely to have women bishops by 2014.
Thursday’s address by Mr Gamble was the first by a Methodist President to Synod since 1993. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is due to address the Methodist Conference in June, while reports on the Covenant process will be made to both national assemblies next year.
But formal progress between merging the denominations is unlikely to take place until women bishops are introduced to the Church of England, in 2014 at the earliest.
The English Anglican Church hopes to continue the process with success. One Bishop is quoted: “We need to be very cautious with the institutional process. It’s vital that we don’t fail because we can’t afford to fail again.”
He said the Methodist church's decision was consistent with its "radical commitment" to the Christian mission.
Interestingly, the Episcopalians believe, as an Episcopal Priest says, "...in 'con-substantiation,' the presence of Christ with the elements. Very close to, if not aligned
with the Lutheran teaching." They remain in Communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who defines Communion and its ceremony of Eucharist in this manner:
Lutherans use the term "sacrament" to describe two parts of Christian life and worship where an earthly element or sign is linked with God’s promise and Christ’s directive. The New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ commanded Baptism and Holy Communion. For Lutherans, these are rituals of worship but each also shapes broader understanding and daily living.
In the Sacrament of Holy Communion, after hearing and experiencing the good news of Jesus Christ in word, prayer and song, the community receives bread and wine. They experience the tangible presence of Christ by eating and drinking these elements.
The outward signs of the sacrament are simple earthly elements: bread and wine. Yet, together with the spoken promise of God these elements convey the presence of Jesus Christ to the assembly of believers. Martin Luther said that Jesus is present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. We believe this because Jesus says it is so (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20) even when we cannot fully explain how it happens.
The “Christian Post” (Lillian Kwon) reports Methodists in the United States are now in full Communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America: “The new relationship between the two major Protestant denominations is not a merger but a recognition of each other's ministry and mission. Full communion recognizes that each church has "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith" expressed in the Scriptures and confessed in historic creeds and the core teachings of each denomination.”
Christianity in America is changing.
Images: (1) Church of Our Saviour (Episcopal), Mill Valley, California—San Francisco Bay Area. Photo: Rick White. (2) Communion table, Anglican. (3) Sculpture by Jonathan Clarke of "Christ Blessing the Children". (4) Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (left) and United Methodist Bishop William Oden sing a hymn during April 29 morning worship at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: UMNS / Mike DuBose.