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June 2009

Methodist-Anglican covenant stirs hope for deeper relations

By Cory Miller

Greeted by the choral chords of the Tongan choir, the gathered drifted into Lotofale’ia the Tongan Methodist Church in Mangere, Auckland to witness representatives of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia sign a covenant with the Methodist Church of New Zealand.

From there the leaders of both denominations crossed the road to Anglican Maori Church in Mangere, Te Karaiti Te Pou Herenga Waka, where the Methodist representatives in turn signed the covenant.The event, which took place on May 24th, or Wesley Day as Methodists know it, was a significant step towards healing a rift that dates back more than two centuries. John Wesley on this day in 1738 experienced a life changing moment which set the wheels in motion for the Methodist Church to emerge as a splinter from the Church of England.

The covenant states the New Zealand Methodist and Anglican Churches "&on the basis of our shared history, our agreement on the apostolic faith, our shared theological understandings of the nature and mission of the church and of its ministry and oversight and our agreed vision of a greater practical expression of the unity in Christ of our two churches, hereby make the following covenant."

The path to this milestone was began in 2002 when the General Synod of the NZ Anglican Church extended an invitation to the Methodist Church to enter into dialogue. A group of representatives from both churches started a journey of exploration that cumulated in the covenant. Convenor of the Methodist Faith and Order Committee Rev Dr Terry Wall

Anglican Church leaders (from left) Jackie Pearse, Rt Rev Winston Halapua and Rt Rev Te Kitohi Pikaahu sign the Anglican-Methodist covenant, watched by their Methodist counterparts Rev John Roberts, Ron Gibson and Rev Jill van de Geer.

says it is a national church-to-national church agreement."When we first began this dialogue we uncovered what we share but we still need to work on the interchangeability of ministry," Terry says. "The covenant will provide a means for us to continue an ongoing and intentional dialogue, deepening our present relationship."

Rev Diane Miller-Keely, an Anglican vicar at All Saints Church, in Howick East Auckland says the covenant is about accepting where we are at the moment, which is in a broken relationship. "Then we can move forward from there to find ways of deepening the relationship."

The churches have agreed to seek a greater commitment to dealing with issues that prevent their unity. These issues include the theology of ministry and the question of its interchangeability. The covenant relationship will provide opportunities for combined worship encouraging the two churches to grow together in areas of life and witness.

Anglican bishop Rt Reverend John Bluck gave the sermon at the covenant event. He spoke of how he has watched the dance between Methodists and Anglicans for most of his life. It is a process of dialogue and exploration in which it is important to firstly get the foundations right and then the rest will follow.

"This covenant takes us closer to the heart of god in a new stage of that long and fractious journey. It will create a bigger, stronger and richer framework for our ministries."

John Wesley (aka Jim Stuart) gave a sermon at a service marking the Anglican-Methodist covenant at Christchurch Cathedral.

Through his words John echoed the hopes of others, that this covenant will strengthen the focus of the church on their common mission in the world. The separation between the two churches is a reality and contributes to the Christian weakness worldwide.

"It has been a long-time since we were accustomed to each others faces, we were a couple that used to know each other before we got divorced," John said. "This is not a wedding," he joked, "but watch this space. I pray for the day when I can say I am part Methodist and part Anglican."

John says the test of the covenant will be to see if it helps the church contribute to the fight against the injustice of the world.

"As the church bickers, other world issues become more entrenched," John said. "This new ecumenical space will enable the cry for help from the communities to be heard.

"It is a model that many of us have only ever dreamed about. It shall take us out of our own self-importance to the heart of the living God, were we can realise that we are all one with him."

In addition to the signing ceremony in Auckland, a joint Methodist-Anglican service marking the covenant was also held at the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral. It featured a sermon by John Wesley as channelled by Rev Jim Stuart.