A moment of grace

The text of a speech given at the July 2019 General Synod in the debate on “Mission and Ministry in Covenant”.

Synod amended the motion and so chose to move more slowly than I advocated and hoped – but we are moving, and the journey continues.

I speak as Anglican co-chair of the Joint Advocacy and Monitoring Group for the Methodist-Anglican Covenant, and I welcome and honour the presence of my Methodist co-chair, David Walton, who is present today.

As far as I know ours is the only group that’s been set up by this Synod in order specifically to advocate for something within the Church, namely for the development of the solemn relationship between our two churches expressed in the Covenant of 2003. The Synod wanted this road to be travelled.

It’s a long road but it has clear milestones. Today’s debate is one. I strongly advise that the Synod approves this [unamended] motion today and takes a further careful step on the road, a step to interchangeable mission and ministry and theological and ecclesial convergence. A step indeed that asks our theologians for further thought but that constitutes a step forward.

I believe this moment, including its request that legislation be prepared, is a moment of grace.

Here’s a church, the Methodist Church, which has agreed to consider taking episcopal order into its system. It would do so in a way that’s appropriate to its own life, but in a way that would change its own life. The Lambeth Conference of 1888 held up four things essential to our life as a people, one of which is “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church”. If the Methodist people choose to accept these proposals that would be a moment of grace, not only for them but for us.

We on our part are also being asked to embrace a moment of grace, and to open ourselves to the cost of a grace which is not cheap. What we’re actually talking about here, and what the Further Reflection group has put into liturgical and demonstrable form, is a moment of grace – a moment when as a church we can put into practice all the fine things we say in pulpits and in hymns about laying down our life for our friends, about emptying ourselves of all but love, about preferring others before ourselves, about sacrifice, about vulnerability. All these things are summed up in what the JIC final report described as the opportunity for “bold initiatives which will break the logjam which is preventing the flourishing of our covenant relationship.” Will we take another step – not a final step but a step in trust – and do something that will indeed cost us a measure of our ecclesial certainty, so that we can share gifts of love with others?

I hope so. I hope that today we will not embrace our own security so tightly that we smother the moment of grace by smothering the moment of drafting legislation. I hope that we will take just one step, lightly and joyfully but decisively, into a process of discernment which is not completed today, and which does not solely depend on us in any case, but which holds out the possibility of a convergence of the churches which will bless our God and will make such a difference on the ground, and which will speak of what the self-emptying love of Christ can mean for a Christian community. I strongly urge the Synod to support this motion.