9. CHURCH UNION
At Reuti in 1973 the Commission voted to invite Dr. Gerard Moede
(then at Geneva) to write for it a survey of Methodist participation
in church union negotiations and in united churches throughout the
world, and to add his reflections on what implications this involvement
holds (whether of theology or of policy) for Methodist/Roman Catholic
dialogue, with special reference to mutual recognition of ministry.
The important and substantial paper furnished by Dr. Moede was discussed
at length at the Venice meeting of 1974. Discussion, however, was
general, focusing mainly on the merits and demerits of existing
unions and plans and at length gravitating towards the more limited
topic of the advantages and disadvantages of World Confessional
organizations. In the time available for discussion there was no
question of justice being done to the many questions raised by the
paper, especially those about the implications of our own dialogue.
The paper remains as a compelling reminder of unfinished business
and it is difficult to see how another five-year period of dialogue
would carry conviction if it failed to grapple with these issues.
In this connection it is appropriate to record that at the British
Methodist Conference of 1975 a motion was proposed and passed with
acclamation, "that those appointed by the Methodist Conference to
the British Methodist/Roman Catholic conversations be asked - provided
the competent Roman Catholic authorities agree - to explore the
conditions on which communion might be established between the Methodist
Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
At the first of this second series of conversations, at Rome in
December 1972, we agreed that, besides the specific subjects of
theological discussion dealt with in sections II-VII of the Denver
Report, and again taken up here in the foregoing paragraphs, there
were matters mentioned in section VIII of the Denver Report, and
especially in Para. 121, which demanded our attention. This paragraph
spoke of "the responsibility we feel for serious planning of the
education of our churches at lay, ministerial and local levels".
The "we" here refers to the Commission, but the responsibility is
one which extends further and the Commission's role can only be
a stimulating one.
Since the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity has produced
a section of its Directorium dealing with Ecumenical Education,
we felt that a beginning might be made by eliciting reactions to
this from Methodists involved in ministerial training and other
forms of religious education. Members of the staff of Qeen's College,
Birmingham, England, an ecumenical college containing many Methodists,
responded on behalf of British Methodism. The question still remains
of primary importance, and there are many places where cooperation
on the lines suggested by the Vatican document is in progress. Perhaps
it may be hoped that at the Dublin Conference those present who
have experience of such cooperation will give an account of it and
so interest and encourage others.
Another aspect of ecumenical education and of Roman Catholic/Methodist
cooperation which we discussed briefly at our first meeting was
that of the ecumenical aspects of religious use of the public communications
media, and we owe thanks to Fr. Agnellus Andrew of UNDA for reflections
and information on this.
Number 3 of our "Call to joint Action" of 1973 read as follows:
"Churches often publish statements on moral questions. Some of these
should be studied together to make explicit their common content.
Then the area of agreement can be further explored and a joint witness
made to these moral principles".
It was our intention to promote a beginning here by arranging for
a joint comparative study of the "Social Principles of the United
Methodist Church", adopted by the 1972 General Conference in Atlanta,
Georgia, and the statement, Moral Questions (London: C.T.S., 1971),
put out by the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales, but several
attempts in different places to get this done were unsuccessful.
The feeling behind this section of the "Call to Action" was that
such "denominational" statements often represent a lost ecumenical
opportunity - a chance missed of giving a witness in this crucial
field which would be all the stronger as a joint witness.
Obviously this is no less true now than it was four years ago. Not
all such opportunities are neglected, but we would strongly exhort
our church leaders to consider always the possibility of joining
their voices when such utterances are called for. We have offered
above, for example (see Para. 45), a summary of a Methodist statement
on euthanasia which the Catholic Medical Quarterly (January 1975)
was able to print.
As we have explained earlier, the second series of our conversations
has had a different method and even involved some act of confidence
that the affinities, common concerns and hopes to which the Denver
Report had pointed are widely shared in our communities. Hence it
is right that some form of balance sheet should be offered as a
result of our experience. It would be idle to deny that the general
picture presented by our experience is an uneven one - this is clear
enough from what has been said above. What is remarkable is that
wherever Roman Catholic/Methodist discussion and cooperation takes
place at all, the available evidence suggests that the experience
is a positive one. We hear nothing of tensions, frustrations and
flagging interest, but much of growth in understanding and sympathy.
The conclusion to be drawn from this by those who have not had the
experience and who still hesitate is simple. Those who have made
a start best know that there is still a long road to travel, but
that is not a reason for failing to start, nor yet for fainting
by the way. We should always be ready for further experiment, for
extending our contacts and joint concerns45.
Neither John Wesley and his followers nor the great apostolic figures
of Catholic history were marked by a readiness for discouragement
or an unwillingness to swim against the tide. It is our privilege
to live in an age when we clearly see the search for unity as integral
to the whole witness to Christ, and though that vision is not proof
against doubts and discouragement we should not betray the spirit
of resolution and confidence which, in Christ, we have inherited
from his great servants.
Rome, Italy, December
Reuti, Switzerland, October 1-5, 1973
Venice, Italy, September 30-October 3, 1974
Bristol, England, September 8-12, 1975
Bishop William R. Cannon, Atlanta,
Bishop Prince A. Taylor, Jr., Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
The Rev. Raymond George, Bristol, England
Dr. Jose Miguez Bonino, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dr. Lee F. Tuttle, General Secretary, World Methodist Council,
Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, U.S.A.
Bishop Michael Bowen, Arundel
& Brighton, England
Mons. C. Moeller, Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
Rev. T.F. Stransky, CSP, New York, U.S.A.
Rev. Michael Hurley, S.J., Dublin, Ireland
Mons. W.A. Purdy, Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
Mons. J. Hamer, OP., attended the 1972 meeting and was subsequently
replaced by Mons. C. Moeller.
Dr. Miguez Bonino was able to attend only the 1973 meeting but
supplied a paper for the 1974 meeting.
Bishops Cannon and Taylor were prevented from attending the
Dr. Robert Nelson of Boston read a paper at the 1973 meeting
and stayed for the entire meeting.
Bishop Franz W. Schäfer of Zurich attended the 1972 meeting
and some sessions of the 1973 meeting.
Dr. Egon Gerdes and Professor Norman Young attended the 1974
Dean Thomas Langford of Duke University, U.S.A., and Dr. Peter
Stephens of Wesley College, Bristol, England, attended the 1975
meeting and Professor Gordon Rupp was present for part of the
Our thanks are due
to the following for hospitality and for help in arranging the meetings:
the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Via Cassia, Rome; Bishop Franz
W. Schäfer and the staff of Viktoria Hotel, Reuti; Don Germano Pattaro
and the Sisters, Casa Cardinal Piazza, Venice; the Principal and
staff of Wesley College, Bristol; and for secretarial assistance
to: Miss Dorothy Buser, Miss Corinna De Martini, Miss Margaret Orrell.
Service 34 (1977/II) 8-20]
It is most encouraging, for example, to hear, as this report
is being prepared, that a joint committee for study and collaboration
has been set up between the Catholic Conference of Bishops of
Latin America (CELAM) and the Council of Evangelical Methodist
Churches of Latin America (CIEVIAL) and has already held its
first meeting at Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Back to text
One of its avowed aims is collaboration with our international
Another encouraging results of the Commission's "Call to
Action" is the lively book of essays by English Catholics
and Methodists, edited by Brian Frost and Leo Pyle, Dissent
and Descent (London: Epworth Press, 1975).