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April 2009

Anglicans and Methodists to sign covenant on Wesley Day

By Terry Wall

Ecumenism is alive in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Holy Spirit continues to provide energy in response to the prayer in John’s gospel "that they may be one" (John 17:21). Evidence of this is to be found in Union and Co-operating Parishes the length and breadth of the country.

In 2002 the General Synod of the Anglican Church resolved to invite the Methodist Church to enter conversations with a view to promoting the visible unity of the church. The Methodist Conference resolved to accept the invitation and each church appointed a team to participate in dialogue.

In the conversations we were reminded of all that our two churches have in common. There is the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, clergyman of the Church of England, who as evangelist developed a renewal movement within the Church. There is also his brother, Charles, whose hymns gave poetic expression to the proclamation of the love of God.

Within New Zealand the two churches have often had parallel and close relationships. There was co-operation between the two churches in missionary work among Maori in the years before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. In recent years both churches have embraced the bicultural journey in the context of the emerging multi-cultural society.

In the light of these conversations, the idea of the two churches entering into a covenant relationship commended itself. Covenant-making has deep roots in scripture, Methodists have renewed their covenant in Christ annually, and Maori and Pacific people have related to the idea of entering into a sacred covenant of commitment.

Both churches endorsed this approach and members of the dialogue undertook the theological work necessary before proceeding. Subsequently the Anglican General Synod agreed to enter into the covenant relationship in May 2008 and the Methodist Conference agreed in November 2008.

It is held that within the commitment of a covenant relationship, the remaining theological issues that keep the churches separate can be addressed in a robust manner. These focus on the theology of ministry and the question of interchangeability of ministries. The covenant provides opportunities for combined worship, perhaps focused on commemorations of the witness of Charles and John Wesley, and eucharistic hospitality. While the remaining theological issues are discussed in dialogue, the covenant relationship will encourage joint action in evangelism and in the service of social justice.

A national worship event is planned, during which the Covenant will be signed by leaders of our two churches. This is to be held on Sunday May 24th – Wesley Day – at 2 p.m. at the Tongan Methodist Church Centre, Lotafala’ia, after which refreshments will be served at the Anglican Te Karaiti Te Pou Herenga Waka Church Centre, immediately opposite in Orly Avenue, Mangere Town Centre.

The signing of the covenant will mark a significant step forward in relationships between the two churches. It draws on the work for ecumenism of an earlier generation. It is consistent with the proposals of the 1996 International Anglican-Methodist Commission in its report Sharing in the Apostolic Communion.

The covenant is an expression of mission-shaped ecumenism that takes our context in this land seriously. We can celebrate it as a step along the way toward visible unity. It is a demonstration that ‘the churches share a real but incomplete communion’. It is an expression of a deep resolve to continue the journey, to engage with the questions and share the vision of unity in diversity.