Ten days ago we let you know about a velvet brick being tossed into a soporific gathering of the Church of England's General Synod. David Gamble, president of the UK's Methodist Conference, told Synod members that
"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."
On their blog, Gamble and Methodist Conference VP Richard Vautrey repeat these facts while nuancing them significantly.
We echoed what previous Conferences have agreed, that we are prepared to be changed and even cease having a separate existence as a Church if it will serve the needs of the Kingdom. But our parting challenge was that both our Churches needed to approach the Covenant in this spirit.
"I'm waiting for similar words from the CoE," one person responded.
I'm waiting for the CoE to sort out its ridiculous inequalities. I'm waiting for a senior CoE clergy to have something intelligent to say about the Methodist Church, and not just "well, the Covenant is all about Methodists becoming Anglicans" (not an exact quote, but the gist of a senior London Anglican cleric). I'm waiting, but I think it won't be in my ministry (and I have 31 or 34 years of travel to go).
Other Methodists in England were even less charitable, or at any rate, more efficiently blunt:
Methodism is not for sale. There is a reason why I am a Methodist. I didn't leave the Church of England to rejoin it forty years later as some desperate act of survival. ...
Please take the buildings, the accumulated cash, the shares, the long winded rules, the bloated toy town Parliament of Annual Conference, the constant discouragement, and the pension scheme
We Methodists will carry on. We don't need you. Go.
Or this word of South African Methodists digging in their heels.
... Andrew Hefkie, the Methodist Church's Cape Town Bishop, said a merger was not being considered between the Methodist and Anglican churches in South Africa.
He said theologically, most of the churches in South Africa were "all on the same page" but all had their own small differences.
The Rev Otto Tshangana of the United Methodist Church in Cape Town said the proposed merger of the churches was restricted to the UK and would have no impact in South Africa.
In short, all the criticism you could want is out there.
Karen Burke, however, was one of a few who took the long view, calling to memory the Anglican-Methodist Covenant signed in November 2003, and particularly its commitment "to develop structures of joint or shared communal, collegial and personal oversight, including shared consultation and decision-making, on the way to a fully united ministry of oversight."
The press picked up on [Gamble's remark] as if it were a bolt from the blue: Methodists falling on their sword, offering their church on a plate to be swallowed by the officially established church. In fact, what David expressed was the longer view of the Anglican-Methodist covenant signed seven years ago; a vision that was conceived in formal talks between the two churches back in 1969. ....
The sixth and final commitment of the covenant ... is an expression of two bodies coming together and becoming one; not the sacrifice of a subordinate to a dominant. The real story isn't about Methodist self-immolation or throwing in the towel; it's about Christians moving forward, growing and seeking new ways of being.
Methodists don't need to be a Methodist Church in order to be Methodist people; they can be Methodists either within a wider church or as a separate church – whichever creates the most effectiveness in mission.
Clearly, there's at least as much, if not more, desire to see monolithic CoE structures and habits changed as there is to see Methodism merge, transmogrify, or go quietly into that good night. One wonders what cost any such shifting will really exact -- whether either party, or both.