Below is an Update which was published in the Church of Ireland Gazette on 4th April 2014 Prepared by Archbishop Richard Clarke The Revd Winston Graham Co-Chairs of the Covenant Council
In 2002, a Covenant between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland was formally approved and accepted by the General Synod in May and the Methodist Conference in June. On 26th September, it was signed by the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland, acting on behalf of both churches.
The basis of the Covenant was an acknowledgement that each Church belongs to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, and participates fully in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.
Consequently, the Covenant states – “We believe that God is calling our two Churches to a fuller relationship in which we commit ourselves:
1. To share a common life and mission;
2. To grow together so that unity may be visibly realised.”
One of the most significant steps towards these goals has been the Council’s work on interchangeability of ministries. Key to the progression has been the recognition of an expression of the historic episcopate within each tradition.
Interim proposals relating to this were endorsed by the governing bodies of both Churches in 2010. More developed proposals were presented and received by Synod and Conference in 2011. In 2012, final approval was given by the Methodist Conference to the scheme of interchangeability. In 2013, the necessary legislation to enable the same scheme passed its first stage at General Synod. The second and final stage comes before General Synod in 2014.
The rationale and outworkings of this are that:
1. The Church of Ireland recognizes that the office of President of the Methodist Church in Ireland gives specific and personal expression to the historic episcopate as gifted to the whole Church of God.
2. The title ‘episcopal minister’, embraced by the Methodist Church in Ireland, expresses the role of serving and former Presidents in a manner consonant with, and parallel to, that in which the Church of Ireland describes the role of personal oversight exercised by a bishop.
3. The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and at least two former presidents in the first instance (and at least two episcopal ministers thereafter) participate fully in the ordination/consecration of Church of Ireland bishops to symbolise and effect the consonance between the two traditions’ understanding of personal and collegial episcope.
4. At least three Church of Ireland bishops in the first instance (and at least two thereafter) participate fully in the installation and consecration of the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland to symbolise and effect the consonance between the two traditions’ understanding of personal and collegial episcope.
5. After both 3 and 4 above have taken place, presidents of the Methodist Church in Ireland and Church of Ireland bishops should participate fully – as often as is practicable – in the ordination of priests or presbyters of the other tradition.
6. Both Churches will continue to explore the full meaning, role and function of the diaconal order/ministry. The Church of Ireland accepts that the diaconal ministry may be understood in a variety of forms, including that of probationers in the Methodist Church in Ireland.
7. Under the scheme of interchangeability, individual clergy/ministers will come under the polity and discipline of the Church in which they serve.
The working out of the above will lead to a full mutual recognition of the other Church’s ministries and thus to their interchangeability. The Covenant Council gives thanks for the variety of shared ministries and projects that have emerged throughout Ireland over the past decade.
We look forward to exploring other areas in which work may be undertaken in pursuit of the goals of the Covenant.
We believe that this work is part of a significant process that continues as we endeavour to work out together the goals of the Covenant. In trust we commit this to God for His greater glory and the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.
Archbishop Richard Clarke The Revd Winston Graham Co-Chairs of the Covenant Council