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Anglican-Methodist covenant to be signed Sunday

For immediate release Thursday, May 21, 2009

It’s the putting right that counts…

The Anglican-Methodist Covenant, to be signed this Sunday, May 24, is a significant step towards the healing of a broken relationship

John Wesley and his brother Charles led one of the most extraordinary movements in 2000 years of church history.

For much of the 18th century, they travelled vast distances through Britain on foot, horseback and by boat to bring hope and transformation to multitudes spat out by the industrial revolution, and poured their prodigious energies and talents into tackling some of the great social justice issues of the times, including prison reform and the abolition of slavery.

They gave birth, of course, to the Methodist movement, and eventually, therefore, to the Methodist Church.

But the Wesley brothers had never set out to start a new denomination: John Wesley, evangelist extraordinaire, had never sought to be more than a faithful Anglican clergyman; a clergyman, nonetheless, who’d been seized by the message of grace, and who preached a message of personal renewal in churches when he was welcomed; and in fields, halls, cottages and chapels when he was not. It was not until after the Wesleys’ death that the ‘movement’ became a denomination.

Well, this Sunday afternoon, May 24, Anglicans and Methodists in New Zealand will take a significant step in the healing of that 250-odd year breach between the two churches.

The leaders of the two denominations in New Zealand will sign The Anglican-Methodist Covenant, which commits their respective churches to a committed relationship.

At Lotafala’ia, the Tongan Methodist Church in Mangere, South Auckland, the Methodist leaders will, in the course of a service of worship, invite the Anglicans to sign the covenant.

Once their signatures are in place, the Anglican leaders will then invite the Methodists to cross Orly Ave to Te Karaiti Te Pou Herenga Waka, the Maori Anglican marae/church where, once a powhiri has been held, they will add their signatures to the covenant – which will then, in the customary Maori way, be sealed with a hakari, or shared food.

The covenant relationship being entered into on Sunday doesn’t immediately usher in full unity between the two denominations. Perhaps mindful of the great and doomed ecumenical ventures of the early 1970s, it is deliberately modest, and has set itself achievable goals.

The Rev Diane Miller-Keeley, who is an Anglican vicar at All Saints Church in Howick, East Auckland, describes the covenant this way: “It’s accepting where we are at the moment – which is that we have a broken relationship – and then, from there, trying to find ways to deepen that relationship.

“Our hope, in the long term, is that because we’ve entered into this committed relationship, we can chip away at the things that separate us.”

Perhaps the main sticking point that continues to keep the two denominations apart is ordination.

Anglicans believe in ‘apostolic succession’ – that priest and deacons must be ordained by a bishop. Methodists hold to apostolic succession, too – but have a different understanding of how the gift of ordained ministry is passed on.

One of the key notions introduced by The Anglican-Methodist Covenant is that of “ecumenical space” – space to thrash out differences within the safety of a committed relationship; space, too, to honour the different understandings that each one holds.

Dr Terry Wall, the Methodist Minister of St Paul’s Church, Remuera, says “ecumenical space” means the two churches can work towards a “visible unity in which no treasure is lost. Where each other’s treasures are retained and shared.”

The momentum towards The Anglican-Methodist covenant began in 2002, when the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (the biennial Anglican ‘parliament’) resolved to invite the Methodist Church of New Zealand to enter conversations with a view to promoting the visible unity of the church.

The Methodist Conference (the corresponding top-level Methodist body) resolved to accept the invitation, and both churches appointed a small team to take part in a dialogue group. Both Diane Miller-Keeley and Terry Wall were members of that group.

Anglicans and Methodists up and down the country are being encouraged to celebrate the covenant signing in their own way, in their own places. In Christchurch, for example, the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch and the local Methodist Synod have jointly planned a celebration, which will take place later that same day, May 24, at 5.30pm, in Christ Church Cathedral.

NB: Sunday’s covenant is specific to Anglicans and Methodists in New Zealand. It does not, for example, apply in the Pacific Islands. However, Anglicans and Methodists in other parts of the world – in the UK, for example – have either reached, or are working towards, a healed relationship in their own parts of the world.


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