THE opening day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 1980 will be marked by an ecumenical service in Westminster Cathedral at which the preacher will be this year's President of the Methodist Conference, Dr William Gowland, founder of the Industrial College, Luton.
Over the years the Cathedral has been the scene of many ecumenical firsts at this time. Cardinal Hume invited the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Coggan, two years ago. 1.ast year it was to have been the late Archbishop Athenagoras, but the sermon he had prepared on his sick-bed had to be read by another Orthodox prelate. Today it is the turn of the leader of the largest among the Free Churches to he greeted by the Cardinal.
Dr Lowland's a Yorkshire man of 67, has quickly made plain his ecumenical concern. Indeed, as soon as he was nominated President-designate a year ago he announced his intention to visit Pope John Paul II. This took place last November and was a great success. as his many Catholic friends know well and many others will gather from his sermon.
Cardinal Hume is a leading member of the Unity Secretariat, the central ecumenical office in the Vatican and he is soon due to go to Rome for the first meeting of the international Catholic/Orthodox commission which was recently agreed in Constantinople. This will correspond with the Anglican/Roman Catholic commission responsible for several agreed statements. Few people have heard of another international dialogue which has been quietly at work since 1967 --the joint commission linking the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, which counts many millions across the world. The Archbishop of Southwark, Dr Bowen, has played a leading part in its work.and Canon R. L. Stewart published a useful summary of this in Catholic and Methodists (CTS) before his transfer to the Vatican for further work.
Not very many more people will know that there has also been an English Catholic/Methodist dialogue ticking away quietly for years, with the Bishop in Hertfordshire, Dr O'Brien. as its Catholic leader. This traces its origin to the first Consultation held at Westminster in December, 1967, when Cardinal
Heenan invited 1 5 0 representatives from each church to spend the day together.
The sequel has been a serious and fruitful dialogue which has been described in a report, Conversations 1967178; recently presented to the Methodist Conference and our Episcopal Conference.
A meeting was held at Spode House at the time of the election of Pope John Paul II to enable a crass-section of members of both churches to assess this work.
Plans were made for similar ones to take place locally. but these will not be able to share the same enthusiasm. The choice of the Cardinal of Cracow was met with joyful prayer by Methodist and Catholic alike, The distances between us have gradually been eroded by many such events by gatherings large and private, but most cf all where churches to assess this work.
Plans were made for similar ones to take place locally, but these will not be able to share the same enthusiasm. The choice of the Cardinal of Cracow was met with joyful prayer by Methodist and Catholic alike.
The distances between us have gradually been eroded by many such events — by gatherings large and private, but most of all where joint work is continuous. A case in point is the college in Luton.
Twenty years ago this was a disused chapel. In a generation it has moulded many laity and clergy in the churches. including many Catholic priests, to be ministers and chaplains in industrial. life, The Rev John Wesley (1703-91) was. like his father, the rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire, an Anglican and served for a time as his curate. He became a mis
sionary in American and on his return a wandering preacher all over Britain.
He first held a Conference of his leading assistants in 1744 and it became an annual event, Although Wesley wanted the movement to remain within the Church of England, it had grown increasingly independent by the end of his life.
But the links with the Anglican tradition are still strong. A big effort was made about twenty years ago to bring about an Anglican/Methodist reunion. In the end the plan was defeated by a very narrow margin of votes in the Synod of the Church of England.
In spite of their distinctive loyalties the two churches remain close. Nowhere is this clearer, than in the new Communion services.
The Methodist Church, which started life in these islands, today forms part of worldwide federation of some thirty member churches who between them run to many millions of souls, whereas the Methodist conference today includes little more than half a million. There is a Methodist Church in Ireland, as well as a number of independent Methodist Churches.
There is a distinct Methodist tradition. just as there is a Catholic one. Over the years the two have come to a better appreciation of each other.