Joint Anglican - Methodist Synod, 9 November 2002 at Canterbury Cathedral
The Revd Peter Cornish was invited to address the Anglican - Methodist Synod, and this is a copy of what he said.
Working in an Anglican-Methodist LEP is enormously rewarding and a great privilege. There are some frustrations too, but overall it's fun and it works! The Local Ecumenical Partnership in Sturry and District has been going for 32 years now - Archbishop Michael Ramsey was influential in setting us up - and I've only been here for four and a half years, so the bulk of the work has been done by church members and my Anglican and Methodist predecessors. Having said that, my last appointment was also in a Methodist-Anglican LEP, in Shropshire, so I've worked across the boundaries for eleven years; and in ecumenism you can never just sit back and rely on what's been done in the past - you've got to take things forward and we've been taking new steps forward together in the last few years.
If there's just one thing you take away from this presentation, it's this: ecumenism is to do with relationships and relationships take time. But because it takes time, you've got to start now: if you wait till tomorrow, unity will be even further down the road. In Sturry, we look back not just to 1970 when the LEP was established, but to the 1960s, when Christians from different local churches met regularly, to study, to share, to worship and to care together. So there were years of shared background before the LEP was set up, and there've been significant stepping-stones along the way since.
Firstly, sharing agreements on the buildings, which formally allow Domination A to use a building belonging to Denomination B. We started with four buildings, three Anglican-owned and one Methodist-owned, and we're now using two on a regular basis.
Secondly, we have a single Joint Church Council or JCC, which oversees the work of the whole parish and across both denominations; and members are elected at a joint AGM which includes the election of churchwardens and senior steward, and representatives to the circuit meeting and the deanery synod. We do not have separate councils for the two denominations: we have to keep an Anglican electoral roll and a Methodist membership list but our members do not wear badges to say which denomination they come from. We do everything together; our congregations are mixed, we have a dual heritage. We are full members both of the Diocese of Canterbury and of the North-East Kent Circuit, and we rejoice in the history and traditions of both denominations.
Thirdly, we have a common purse. You know a couple are getting serious when they set up a joint account! So, since 1990 the Methodist and Anglican finances have been pooled, and Anglican quota and Methodist assessment are both paid out of this. Currently it's the Anglican side that computes the total parish share, and then we pay three-quarters of that to Canterbury and one-quarter to the circuit.
Fourthly, ministry is ecumenical and interchangeable. The seven members of our preaching team - ministers, readers and local preacher - all operate according to both traditions. In both of our church buildings worship is offered according to both traditions; members of our congregations are equally familiar with both; and I, for example, lead both Methodist and Anglican communion services.
Moreover, members of our preaching team operate across the circuit as well as within the parish. My colleague Jeff Ward is a member of Deanery Chapter and Deanery Synod, and I operate as a circuit minister - which is why, tomorrow morning, you'll find me leading the Remembrance Day service at St John's Methodist in Whitstable. Within the LEP, who does baptisms, marriages and funerals depends on who is available on the day; the one point at which Jeff and I are not fully interchangeable is in the legal preliminaries to weddings, as a wedding to be conducted by the Methodist minister must be by licence, not by banns. Jeff, by the way, is based in Herne Bay and he's with us in the Sturry LEP for one-sixth of full-time, which means that, on paper, we have one and one-sixth ministers in a parish of 10,000 population; and if you take off my involvement in the wider circuit, you come to effectively one minister full-time equivalent.
Fifthly, confirmation. Since 1985 confirmations have been shared, with candidates confirmed jointly and simultaneously by Anglican Bishop and by Methodist Minister and they emerge as full members of both denominations. Shades of Animal Farm: four hands good, two hands bad! And there are vitally important principles at stake here: firstly, we're concerned to do equal honour to both traditions, with neither denomination being allowed to take the other for granted - and there are people here who know that we fight for that - and secondly, that candidates know that their identity is Christian and not, narrowly, of one denomination only. And if the service is elsewhere (like here in the Cathedral), with other candidates who are only being confirmed by an Anglican bishop, then the fact that candidates from the LEP are treated differently is a powerful witness to what, I trust, we are all wanting to work towards. We are confirmed or received into membership of the Church Universal rather than just one particular tradition.
Sturry LEP was reported in the Church Times (December 2001)
There is a copy of the Church Times News Article on this website, or look at the Church Times website (accessible from the Links page of this website).
The failure of Anglican-Methodist Reunion in 1972 was a shock to the LEP, but developments nationally since then have brought the two denominations closer together locally. Liturgical reform, developments in women's ministry in the diaconate and presbyterate, fresh thinking on divorce and remarriage, and on children and communion - these have all helped overcome the obstacles of 30 years ago. I had a phone call from a woman who said, "Do you do remarriage after divorce, or do I ring the Methodist minister?" Well, we have a shared policy now on that.
A lot of steps to reach where we are now - and there'll be other issues we still need to face together. It takes time, and it takes trust. And there's no substitute for that trust and willingness to treat each other as equal partners. So I hope that what you've heard about the Sturry experience encourages you to make the links and build the trust in your necks of the woods, to break away from assuming that all your colleagues in ministry are in the Diocesan Directory or the District Directory. Christian mission and Christian ministry are most effective when they are done in partnership.
Taken from the Joint Synod presentation, 9 November 2002 at Canterbury Cathedral, by Revd Peter Cornish