LONDON – The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of his desire to see women ordained as bishops in the Church of England in a way that does not “violently disrupt” the common life of the church.
In an address to the Methodist Conference in Portsmouth last night, Dr Rowan Williams asked Methodists to pray for the Church of England ahead of key debates on women bishops in its General Synod in York next week.
He told Conference: “My hope and prayer is that we shall see women ordained as bishops in the Church of England. My hope and prayer is also that we shall do that in a way that does not violently disrupt some of the features of our common life, that we actually lose one another in a sense.
“Yes, we will have some mess afterwards but making that mess something other than rancorous and resentful is what I would like to see. I am quite prepared to be Petrine for quite a long time on that one [a reference to the leadership style of Peter who compromised on certain principles in order to preserve order and hierarchy within the church].”
The Church of England and the Methodist Church have been in formal dialogue for many years in an effort to find common ground and deepen the bonds between the two Churches. They entered into a formal Covenant with one another in 2003.
Responding to a question from the Conference floor, the Archbishop said the Church of England was unlikely to recognize the ordained ministry of the Methodist Church any time soon because such a move would have to grow out of reconciliation at the ground level.
“If we recognized all Methodist ministers as ordained it would short circuit a lot of important work on how ministry grows out of communities and if we want reconciliation in ministries we have to have reconciliation in communities,” he said.
“I want to see how growing together makes the common recognition of ministry absolutely natural and inevitable.
He added, “We recognize Methodist ministers as ministers of word and sacrament and authentically holding their place within the apostolic church.”
The Archbishop went on to affirm the importance of the Covenant, saying that it had made it possible to “take risks” and do mission together through the Fresh Expressions joint initiative.
“That’s no small thing, that’s a huge step forward,” the Archbishop said.
The two Churches could work harder, he continued, in the area of ministerial formation and to overcome remaining “institutional complications”.
He said he was “very sympathetic” to the “lead church” approach to mission, where one Church works on behalf of both. While the two Churches have already begun to find some common issues to work around, such as gambling, the Archbishop said there could be more if both Churches were “more organized and more intentional”.
Reflecting on relations with other denominations, the Archbishop contended that taking risks was “not in the cultural DNA” of the Roman Catholic, while Orthodox Churches have becoming increasingly uncompromising in recent years.
When asked what issues he could not compromise on, the Archbishop said he could not compromise on the uniqueness of Christ or certain Church policies on the rights of asylum and its refusal to support the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons program.
He said: “I just find myself baffled by any attempt to give a Christian account of why we need a more expensive way of unaccountable slaughter.”
The Methodist Church’s annual Conference is meeting in Portsmouth until Thursday.