Methodist church takes on disestablishment questions - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
June 30, 2004

Methodist church takes on disestablishment questions

-30/6/04

The Methodist Church has approved a report tackling the thorny issues around the relationship between church and state.

The Church says it hopes that the report, approved at the church's annual Conference in Loughborough, will spark a debate among its own members and in other denominations on the topic of establishment. It also follows growing evidence that support for the establishment of the church is fading.

The Rev Jane Craske, of the Faith and Order Committee that produced the report, told Conference that the report had "an ecumenical context", although it was not an ecumenical report.

The report tackles many of the issues that are being thrown up by the signing of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, which the Archbishop of Canterbury also addressed a few days ago.

"The Covenant affects us and we have to expect it to affect Anglican actions and attitudes. We are expected to speak openly to our sister church" Craske said.

She added, "we have to understand what establishment means to Anglicans. If we are to discuss establishment, we cannot discuss it in the abstract. We have to know what it means now, and how it has changed over the last 30 years."

Craske said "there are no easy answers in this debate. Neither complete disengagement between church and state, nor complete identification of church with the state, will work for Methodists. Neither extreme position works, but nor is everything fine. This report recommends some changes to produce better ecumenical relationships in order to provide better for the

faith of the nation."

The Rev Dr. Paul Avis, Anglican Associate Member of the 2004 Methodist Conference and Anglican co-secretary of the Covenant Joint Implementation Committee, told Conference that he welcomed the report as "a courteous, informed and responsible approach to a set of difficult issues. A question we might ask is: how can we engage together as churches with local

communities, civil and with the structures of state itself?"

The 2003 Anglican-Methodist Covenant brought some of the questions about church and state to the front of Methodist thinking for the first time. Using examples from the Bible, Methodist history and current experiences, the report concludes with reflections and recommendations, rather than demands. In approving it, the Methodist Conference commends the report for

study and consultation throughout the Church.

The report contains questions rather than answers: ìThis report aims to map the ground around this topic and does not claim to be the final word on the subject. Rather, we hope that it will help Methodists understand what some of the issues are, and encourage discussion and debate about relationships between churches and states.î

The report adds: ìThis is a necessary preliminary step that we hope will lead to joint conversations between The Methodist Church and the Church of England. This is a broad and complex subject, and this report only aims to discuss some of the issues. But we hope that having raised some points we can enlarge the debate in future.î

The report notes that the nature of the state itself is changing, with some functions either privatised or passed to regulators or agencies that operate at arms length from the traditional instruments of state. At the same time, Britain is an increasingly multicultural and multifaith society, while the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament emphasise that the Methodist Church in Great Britain relates to three nations.

Although there are no current moves to bring the Church of England and The Methodist Church closer together than agreed in the Covenant, Conference accepted that the time is right to look at establishment issues. Conference agreed with the report's authors that it ìcannot wait forever on a situation that will probably continue to change in significant ways over the next few years.î

Methodist church takes on disestablishment questions

-30/6/04

The Methodist Church has approved a report tackling the thorny issues around the relationship between church and state.

The Church says it hopes that the report, approved at the church's annual Conference in Loughborough, will spark a debate among its own members and in other denominations on the topic of establishment. It also follows growing evidence that support for the establishment of the church is fading.

The Rev Jane Craske, of the Faith and Order Committee that produced the report, told Conference that the report had "an ecumenical context", although it was not an ecumenical report.

The report tackles many of the issues that are being thrown up by the signing of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, which the Archbishop of Canterbury also addressed a few days ago.

"The Covenant affects us and we have to expect it to affect Anglican actions and attitudes. We are expected to speak openly to our sister church" Craske said.

She added, "we have to understand what establishment means to Anglicans. If we are to discuss establishment, we cannot discuss it in the abstract. We have to know what it means now, and how it has changed over the last 30 years."

Craske said "there are no easy answers in this debate. Neither complete disengagement between church and state, nor complete identification of church with the state, will work for Methodists. Neither extreme position works, but nor is everything fine. This report recommends some changes to produce better ecumenical relationships in order to provide better for the

faith of the nation."

The Rev Dr. Paul Avis, Anglican Associate Member of the 2004 Methodist Conference and Anglican co-secretary of the Covenant Joint Implementation Committee, told Conference that he welcomed the report as "a courteous, informed and responsible approach to a set of difficult issues. A question we might ask is: how can we engage together as churches with local

communities, civil and with the structures of state itself?"

The 2003 Anglican-Methodist Covenant brought some of the questions about church and state to the front of Methodist thinking for the first time. Using examples from the Bible, Methodist history and current experiences, the report concludes with reflections and recommendations, rather than demands. In approving it, the Methodist Conference commends the report for

study and consultation throughout the Church.

The report contains questions rather than answers: ìThis report aims to map the ground around this topic and does not claim to be the final word on the subject. Rather, we hope that it will help Methodists understand what some of the issues are, and encourage discussion and debate about relationships between churches and states.î

The report adds: ìThis is a necessary preliminary step that we hope will lead to joint conversations between The Methodist Church and the Church of England. This is a broad and complex subject, and this report only aims to discuss some of the issues. But we hope that having raised some points we can enlarge the debate in future.î

The report notes that the nature of the state itself is changing, with some functions either privatised or passed to regulators or agencies that operate at arms length from the traditional instruments of state. At the same time, Britain is an increasingly multicultural and multifaith society, while the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament emphasise that the Methodist Church in Great Britain relates to three nations.

Although there are no current moves to bring the Church of England and The Methodist Church closer together than agreed in the Covenant, Conference accepted that the time is right to look at establishment issues. Conference agreed with the report's authors that it ìcannot wait forever on a situation that will probably continue to change in significant ways over the next few years.î

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.