taking place in Britain. Both have a direct bearing* on future relations between the Christian Churches. The first conference is that of the Methodists which opens today in Plymouth. It will be a momentous gathering for it has to make the decisions about the proposals for re-union with the Anglican Church from which it separated after the deaths of John and Charles Wesley, its founders.
The second conference is the National Assembly of the Church of England, popularly known as the Church Assembly, which opens on Monday in Westminster. It will deal with matters concerning statute law, finance and general Church affairs. It will not, however, decide anything about doctrine, liturgy or canon law which are dealt with by the Convocations of Canterbury and York.
In the accompanying two articles, expert writers set the scene for the two conferences. The article on the Anglican Conference is by Rev. Henry Cooper, Master of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine. The article on the Methodist Conference is by a Special Correspondent.
ANGLICANS FEEL THE TENSIONS
CATHOLIC readers are aware that in all Churches.
not least in their own, tensions exist. Indeed, the larger the Church and the more Catholic, the greater the tensions, for small Churches exist very often to promote one idea and consist of like-minded people.
I shall be forgiven, 1 hope, for speaking of "Churches". What else can I call them? But I believe as strongly as anyone that there is only one Body of Christ.
It is possible to be a sincere and loyal Christian with fully Catholic intentions and yet to differ widely from other Christians, because no individual can know the whole truth, although the whole Church does.
This does not mean, I believe, that doctrinal truth is not vitally important, for there is only One Truth, who is Christ Jesus, but that knowing and trusting in him personally is even more important than _being accurate in what you believe about him, for that is bound to be inadequate.
Yet the tensions are sometimes hard to bear, and they mostly go back to things in history which will take great patience and love and care to correct. After all, it is not surprising that there are great differences between divided Christians, for had there not been there would have been no divisions.
Nobody feels the tensions, however, more than the Church of England people. To be an Anglican means to be subject all the time to a two-way stretch. One side of the Church looks towards Rome and the Eastern Orthodox, and feels great sympathy with most of the beliefs and practices of the two greatest Churches in Christendom, and claims to share their Catholicorthodox character.
The other side looks towards the Churches of the Reformation and claims to have much in common with them. In between there is a larger central number who are not partisan at all.
It might seem to an outsider that there were two Churches uneasily yoked together. But no Anglican thinks in that way. All recognise the good in each other. All arc bound in a common discipline, both of doctrine and worship, in the Book of Common Prayer. And all share a Ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons ordained in the original way with the declared intention
to continue what was there from the beginning.
Living in this tension is, they comfort themselves, a part of Christian experience and an opportunity of charity. They can sympathise with Catholics who are now having to bear tensions in greater degree than for a very long time.
The Church Assembly, however, has to deal first with the million pound budget of the Church in its central finances, and with a large number of reports about missionary, ecumenical, educational, social, and other affairs.
It also has to consider several measures about the Prayer Book, which Convocations have approved, and which can then he sent to the Crown and become part of the law of the Realm.
Some deal with services. This seems odd, for services involve doctrine and worship. The Assembly, however, cannot decide that. It is a curious situation, for by what seems to have been an oversight at the time, the Book of Common Prayer was included as an appendix to the concordat which the Church made with the State in the seventeenth century, and it is, somewhat absurdly, part of the law of the land.
Because that is a cramping thing which prevents liturgical growth, the new measures propose that changes may be made without recourse to the Crown through Parliament. for that has hitherto seemed scandalous to many of us. Vatican II is similarly enabling local dioceses and provinces to change.
But an even greater cause for disquiet has been the apparent appointment of bishops by the Crown advised by the Prime Minister (not by Parliament). It is true that nowadays the Prime Minister only proposes those who have been approved by the Archbishop, and would not think of doing otherwise.
But, according to a law which could not be carried into effect, if the clergy of the cathedral do not elect the Crown's nominee they can be banished and all their goods confiscated. To elect under duress is not what we call election to-day, so the procedure is to be changed to the acceptance of the nominee, and there is to be an official consultation by the Archbishop with the clergy and laity of the diocese before he gives the names to the Prime Minister. This is an interim piece of legislation, for if union with the Methodists takes place, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said in Convocation, there would
be greater changes and greater freedom of choice.
The Church of England is also engaged with the Scottish Anglicans in conversations with the Scottish and English Presbyterians, and although great progress has been made in charity and understanding there is a deadlock over the Ministry, because Presbyterians hold a very high view of their own, which they claim to be from Christ himself. and such a plan as the Methodist one is unacceptable to them. It is fair to say, however, that since they rejected the idea of bishops in 1958 they have become much less militant about it.
Anglicans also look towards the Eastern Orthodox and the Archbishop of Canterbury has exchanged visits with Eastern prelates. Recently a delegation of three Metropolitans came to Lambeth with a message from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (the senior Eastern Patriarch) to the effect that they were willing to begin theological conversations with us. It was delightfully impressive and warmly Christian scene in the palace. There is much fellowship and mutual respect between leaders but few ordinary people on either side know much about it as yet.
But when all this is said and done we must realise that the Church of England is a Western Church, and shares much of the Latin thought and background of the Roman Catholic Church. Except a few extreme Protestants (and few Anglicans will allow you to call them Protestant) all of us arc delighted at the kindly, friendly and understanding approaches between our two Churches.
The Archbishop has a Cornmission on Roman Catholic Relations which is trying to encourage contacts all over the country and has a network of representatives for the purpose. We are not expected to press too hard, nor to disobey the rules of either side, but mutual discussion, sharing where we can in good, works, praying together when we may, spreading accurate information about us both, and chiefly entering into a relationship of true charity are the ways in which we work.
Anglicans are impressed (as I am especially in the Archdiocese of Westminster) by the generosity and openness of many Roman Catholic priests and bishops, and it is clear that the old suspicions and antagonisms have gone—we hope for ever.
I myself have every reason to know this since I was the Vicar of the parish which is close to Ealing Abbey when Dr. Fisher, formerly Archbishop of Canter
Rev. Henry Cooper was formerly Rural Dean of Ealing, and is now the Master of the ancient Royal Foundation of St. 'Katharine in Stepney. He is a Proctor in Convocation and the Vice-Chairman of the House of Clergy in the National Assembly of the Church of England. He is also a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Roman Catholic Relations as well as other commissions. Hi represents the Church of England in the British Council of Churches and in its Faith and Order Department, and was a delegate to the World Council of Churches.
bury, went to see Pope John. The very next day it seemed as if the wholeneighbourhoodhad changed, that we could be friends and trust each other without disloyalty, and we realised that hatred and antipathy had gone. They must have gone, of course, long before, but we realised it then. Not least was this due to the good Fathers at the Benedictine Abbey, and amongst them Dom Bernard Orchard became a trusted friend.
The Anglican viewpoint is in all directions, and like most other people Anglicans suffer from the delusion that they are in the centre of the universe, but despite confusion and bewilderment in some places, there is a spirit of quiet expectancy amongst them and there are a considerable number of creative movements and ideas circulating.
If you had asked me twenty years ago what the prospects for a united Christendom were I might have replied that 1 believed that our Lord's prayer "That they may all become one Thing" would one day be fulfilled, but that at the present we were faced with a dark impenetrable fog.
If you ask me to-day I answer in the same way, except that the fog is no longer dark, but bright, bright like the cloud on Mount Hermon at the Transfiguration or on Mount Olivet at the Ascension, bright for the same reason —because our Lord is in the midst of it.
We do not know what the future holds: we are utterly sure that it is in his control, and this gives us great joy.