General Synod Speech: “Mission and Ministry in Covenant”


Archbishop speaking at General Synod

General Synod Speech at Church House, Westminster by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu on “Mission and Ministry in Covenant

The Methodist and Anglican representatives have thought deeply both about the Methodist tradition of connexionalism and about the role of the bishop as a sign of unity in the Anglican tradition, and have outlined the ways in which these concepts of the order of the church converge.

Their proposals are rich with the promise of greater mutual understanding and cooperation. It is made quite clear that the meeting of a tradition of personal episcopacy with one of connexional responsibility can occur without violence to what is importantly enshrined in each. 

To speak of a personal ministry to the unity of the church does not imply any separation of the bishop’s work from the institutions of the church, local and central, the local communities that comprise it and the ministries of leadership that take its mission forward. It is precisely in enabling them to work well with one another, in ensuring communications among them, that the personal ministry of the bishop is realised.

Similarly, to speak of the “connections” that link community to community and the mission frontier to the central organisations of the Church is not to rule out the work of a specially called leader, whose distinct ministry is to be a common point of reference for different ministries, referring them to the authoritative standards which they all have in common. Indeed, in the recent review of the Crown Nominations Commission the Methodist term connexionalwas drawn upon in describing how the bishop serves unity not uniquely as an individual, but through their relation to the whole body. And I quote:

We should be speaking, rather, of a “communicative” - or, perhaps, borrowing a Methodist term, “connectional” - role, for although a communicator may speak now to one, now to another person, the role of communicating between them is one role, not two. (GS Misc 1171, 3.7)

This point was emphasized by Professor Oliver O’Donovan in his opening introduction to our debate.

However, the document before us is a little light in elaborating on how the role of a bishop will be practically interpreted in the Methodist Church after this year’s Presidency of the Conference. We are led to understand that former Presidents do, as a matter of existing practice, contribute significantly to the work of leadership. If the form of this extension of ministry could be spelled out further by the Methodists, it will meet any criticism based on an interpretation (not clearly intended by the present document) that the British Methodists will consecrate their bishops only for a single year’s term of office.

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly support the direction of travel of “Mission and Ministry in Covenant”. I believe that the time has come for the two church traditions (Methodism and Anglicanism) to consult the people of God – the Laos, the Laity. A mute button must be switched off for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the urgent need to re-connect our two Church traditions with England. All has to do with God’s Mission. It sets out the agenda, and must decrease, step out of the way, so that Christ may increase as the Head of the Church. Let Him be the Head, not our perceived views of any nature of ministry. Friends the time has come for the laity to speak. So send it out – let us not be talking, talking, talking.