1970s: The Quest for Church Unity

Seven votes in the House of Clergy at the Church of England’s General Synod at the beginning of the 1970s put an end to the plan for unity between the Church of England and the Methodist Church – but the quest for Church Unity remained high on the agenda.

Areas of Ecumenical Experiment (soon to be called ‘Local Ecumenical Projects’) were set up in many places in the expectation that five denominations – including the C of E and the Methodists – would enter a Covenant for unity by the end of the decade. The Covenant proposals collapsed – again courtesy of the Church of England – but the local projects remained and were protected by new C of E legal Canons.

Parish & People invested heavily in the unity enterprise at this time, co-founding ‘ONE for Christian Renewal’.

What about today?

Despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church officially joined England’s ecumenical bodies in the 1990s, many speak now of ‘an ecumenical winter’. Convergence towards one single completely united Church seems unachievable, even undesirable.

Local Ecumenical Projects (now called ‘Partnerships’) that were once the pioneers are now frequently regarded as problems – allegedly ineffective in mission, and a block on plans for reorganisation as the resources for maintaining them dwindle. Many have ceased.

It is enough, according to many of those leading new mission initiatives (the new pioneers), to be nice to Christians of other traditions but essentially to ignore them as having nothing to contribute. However, this so-called ‘relational ecumenism’ – which is little more than ‘let’s live and let live’ – is squandering the capital of the last hundred years of the ecumenical quest.

  • How soon before we are back to the competitiveness and distrust that divided Christians for centuries?

  • How can churches and church leaders be won round to a new vision of unity as embracing a missional diversity?

  • Within such a vision, what is the future of ‘denominations’?

How Parish & People is still at work

The Covenant signed in 2003 between the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain has yet to fulfil its potential. As a member of the initial 'Joint Implementation Team' for the Anglican-Methodist Covenant, John Cole produced two useful guides, published by Parish & People:

Download these two booklets:

Local Preachers and Readers

Methodist Local Preachers and Anglican Licensed Readers share similar skills, but their roles are subtly different. Yet they can in many ways share their distinctive ministries. This short guide shows how this can be done.

Deaneries and Circuits - Partners in Mission

Anglican and Methodist Circuits have different roles within their church institutions - and often seem to inhabit parallel universes. This short guide explains the differences and shows how they can still be partners in mission