In 2003 the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain signed (in the presence of the C of E’s Supreme Governor) what they called a Covenant, intended to be the first step towards visible unity. What the Covenant called for was for Methodists to acquire the ‘historic episcopate’, and Anglicans to admit women into all levels of ministry. A recent report by official bodies of both churches (read it here) bewails the failure to achieve, if not indifference to, either of these ends, and hopes that both churches will give the process a shot in the arm. The Church of England’s synod is due to debate it fairly soon.

Observers of ecumenical efforts will probably not expect a lot to come from this. The Concordat between Episcopalians and Lutherans that was signed in the 1990s probably points the way: both parties signed it, patted themselves on the back, and went back to life much as before. Even if bishops of both churches have been thronging to each others’ consecrations, it has made little difference at the parish level. There may be a few more churches where retired or non-stipendiary Episcopal and Lutheran ministers take turns leading Sunday worship, each using their own liturgical text, but the number still can’t be large. And those I know of were doing this even before the Concordat was signed. How many parishes that can afford a full-time pastor have called one from the other tradition? How many have even interviewed one? No doubt ecumenical officers can cite some statistics that ought to change this perception, but for most people in both churches, and for all people in neither church, nothing has changed, even in appearance.

The main reason for this is that each party in ecumenical conversations believes it is the one that has something of value to give, and only agrees to accept anything from the other in order not to make this self-regard too obvious. Only when a denomination can truly see itself as inadequate, sub-standard, until it has what the other has, will any ecumenical project amount to anything. And the odds against two churches feeling that way at the same time must be quite astronomical.

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