In June this year new proposals were announced to allow interchangeability of ministry between the Methodist Church and the Church of England. As part of these proposals, Methodists would accept episcopal orders acceptable to Anglicans being conferred on their President, and the President would then ordain all presbyters from that time on. There is, however, to be an anomaly: these proposals would mean an extension of the current situation in Local Ecumenical Partnerships where there is some interchange of orders. Under the new proposals, Methodist presbyters who were not ordained by a bishop would be able to minister in Church of England parishes and celebrate the sacraments in them. We are told this is an ‘anomaly’ worth accepting for the sake of unity. We think this ‘anomaly’ is a step too far. The debates and discussions concerning the ordination of women to the episcopate centred for Catholics on the issue of sacramental assurance. There is no sacramental assurance in these proposals. The orders of the Church of England stem from ordinations by bishops in the apostolic succession. Indeed, it is to be hoped that those women and men who campaigned so hard for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate would join us in opposing these proposals for what they are—an undermining of the historic faith as expressed by the Church of England, a church which continues to claim to be both Catholic and Reformed. We appreciate that the Methodist Church is willing to accept becoming episcopally ordered and that this represents a significant step forward after years of discussion, but if this scheme is to work then there cannot be created a second tier of clergy which may not be acceptable to the majority of Church of England parishes, who might logically still expect their priest to have been ordained by a bishop. Whilst it is fair to say this proposal is simply a permissive one and no parish will be forced to have a ministry from a presbyter not ordained by a bishop we do think pressure may be brought on parishes to accept this ministry or face having no ministry at all. It is not good enough for us as Catholics to say: ‘this won’t affect us in The Society’. Here at New Directions, we would welcome an explanation of what makes this proposal a Catholic one. In the 1980s, one of the arguments against the ordination of women as priests was because it created an anomaly that would prevent reunion with the Roman Catholic Church; are we not just creating one more anomaly in our ecclesiology? Should we not wait until ordination by a bishop can be accepted by all Methodist presbyters? Time must be taken over these proposals and more consideration will be taken of our concerns over the Catholic order of our church. This question should not just worry traditionalists but all who value the apostolic ministry as it is expressed in our church.
The long-awaited publication of the Oxford Handbook of the Oxford Movement allows for a timely reflection on where we are and where we might be going as a movement within the Church of England. It is fair to say that the Oxford Movement Fathers could not have imagined the theological and liturgical advances that have been made in our parishes—what would once have been thought of as ‘extreme’ is now simply mainstream. In looking back, it is clear there have been defeats and set-backs in synods and in the Church of England as a whole. That was to be expected—we should perhaps have never imagined we would prevent the tide of the secular agenda coming upon the Church we love. That being said, we are in as strong a position as we have ever been. Like Keble, we can recognise that the Catholic Church is alive and well in our parishes and in our movement. Our task now is to see that Church grow and spread, to develop and uphold all that has come to us from the apostles. This will mean there will be doctrinal battles to fight in the future. The role and work of the Catholic Group in the General Synod is not over; nor is our work in our deaneries and dioceses in making sure the Catholic faith is proclaimed. In the days of luminaries like Michael Ramsey it seemed as if all was won and as a movement we took our eye of the ball. We cannot afford to do this again or we risk the further erosion of the life of our church. Now is not the time to retreat into a safe place but rather to get out and proclaim the faith and seek to bring people to Christ. This is the work of the Church to which we are all dedicated, it is the work that spurred on Keble, Pusey, and Newman and it must inspire us also. To fail to live up to their love for the people of God, their defence of the life of the Church and of her teachings would be to fail to protect their legacy and seriously endanger our future. Now is not the time to step back but rather the time to step forward with confidence as we move Forward in Faith.