I’ve spent the summer in very good company. From the World Methodist Council to MTSE and IAMSCU, the United Methodist Church, the Oxford Institute and the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, I have been surrounded by fellow-Methodists and Wesleyans from across the world. It is a complete joy to be part of such a diverse and beautiful family!
I love being a Methodist. I wasn’t born one and I would have to admit that I only became a ‘real’ one at theological college. I vividly remember reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics (not for pleasure, I hasten to add!) and a section on the unconditional love of God, and finding tears running down my cheeks. It had suddenly struck me that I hadn’t, ‘til that point, fully understood or embraced the universal love of God that was at the heart of the preaching of John Wesley. Like my Biblical namesake, I went to discuss what had happened with my Senior Tutor, who simply remarked: ‘You’ve just become a Methodist!’
Experiencing other Methodist Churches reveals a global church movement that is shaped more by mission and context than anything else. Whilst the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka began its autonomous life with a structure mirroring the British Conference, now it has diverged in many significant ways, and will continue to evolve structures and methods that work in the local context. However, like the British Conference, the Sri Lankans are contemplating ecumenical conversations with the Anglicans, expressly around the mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries.
As I sat listening to the presentations and rationale in Colombo, I was struck again by the mismatch in expectations that accompany Methodist-Anglican dialogue. The talk of ‘mutual’ recognition, for example, is entirely misleading, for it implies that both Churches equally need to address their canon law to make this happen. Yet what we know is that Anglican priests can already to authorized to serve as presbyters within the British Connexion and, should they wish to transfer into Full Connexion, they can do so without further ordination. For Methodists going the other way, not only would they currently have to be ordained, but also probably episcopally re-confirmed. It feels like a misuse of the term ‘mutual’ when the sticking points seem to lie with one party rather than both. If there is to be confidence in the process, transparency and honesty is essential.