The President of the Methodist Conference, David Gamble, has said that seeking the Kingdom of God is more important than the continued existence of individual Churches.
(Theologian Walter Wink has explained God's kingdom, a sought-for domain of love, justice and peace that is central to Jesus' teaching and practice, as "God's domination-free order".)
Gamble was addressing the Church of England General Synod today (11 February) about relationships between the two denominations.
He said that the Methodist Church in Britain was “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.”
Along with the Methodists’ Vice-President, Richard Vautrey, he told the Synod that the Methodist Church was committed to its “covenant relationship” with Anglicans, before answering questions from Synod members.
“We are in a covenant with each other,” insisted Gamble, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, but always for the Gospel”.
He spoke of the need to recognise that Britain is a society of different faiths, cultures and history.
Richard Vautrey emphasised the practical dimension of the relationship, speaking of how the Churches have united to take action on climate change and to support the Citizens for Sanctuary campaign.
He said, “We can and do work together on issues of social justice, on issues that we both know God calls on us to challenge our society and our world”.
But he warned, “There is more that we could and should be doing together”, before focusing on the conflicts in Palestine and Israel as an area on which the two denominations could do more work together.
Many members of both the Methodist and Anglican Churches are supportive of stronger links, or even an eventual merger, between the two denominations. However, some say that the process is moving too slowly.
Writing in the Church Times last week (5 February), the former Bishop of Woolwich, Colin Buchanan, said that the Anglican-Methodist Covenant seemed to require no firm commitment. He insisted that it is time either to “address a truly historic union” or to “end the pretence with the merciful expiry of this gutless enterprise”.
The Methodist leaders’ words today may be seen as an attempt to move things on more quickly. Gamble insisted that the Covenant is a “serious, deeply committed relationship” and not an “irrelevant extra”.
The President's comments tirggered a debate on the Twitter networking site almost instantly, with some Methodists appearing to think that he had gone too far.
However, the Methodist blogger Pete Philipps, said that he had said nothing to which the Church was not already committed. "In the end every church will have to cease to exist because they are only human constructs compared to the Great Church which Jesus prays for" he added.