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Bishop Miller on AMICUM, Mexico, 2009

Bishop Harold Miller Interview on AMICUM Unity Talks

AMICUM, Mexico City
AMICUM, Mexico City
Bishop Harold Miller (front row, 2nd left) and Prof. Robert Gribben (front row, centre) with AMICUM participants at the meeting in Mexico

The Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd Harold Miller, led the Anglican delegation to the first meeting of the Anglican-Methodist International Commission for Unity in Mission (AMICUM) in Mexico City in January 2009. Church of Ireland Press Officer Paul Harron spoke to him about the work of and his hopes for the Commission.

PH: Bishop, what is this joint Commission for Unity in Mission and why the meeting in Mexico?

BHM: As you will realize, Methodists and Anglicans in Ireland are in a covenant relationship – we are of the same family – and the Church of Ireland-Methodist Covenant Council has been working for the re-establishment of international dialogue between our two world communions. There has been something of a hiatus in international dialogue between us between 1996 and this year. In 1996, the report Sharing in the Apostolic Communion – the culmination of six years work by the former International Methodist-Anglican Commission – was presented to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion and the World Methodist Council (WMC) (the report is available at www.anglicancommunion.org) but since then Anglicans and Methodists have not engaged in bilateral conversations at a worldwide level. I was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to co-chair a meeting in Wesley's Chapel in London in November 2007 along with the Professor Robert Gribben from the Uniting Church in Australia (someone I have known well since the 1980s when I was at St John's, Nottingham and he at Lincoln Theological College). At this meeting a proposal was made to our two world communions to re-establish conversations, and the result was the setting up of AMICUM.

The meeting in January at the Conference Centre of the Anglican Church in Mexico  was the first meeting of AMICUM, which was arranged through the Anglican Communion Office (ACO) and the WMC. Robert Gribben and I were co-chairs at this once more. The task was for the Commission members to get to know each other and to assign particular areas for further study and work. The principal work of the Commission is to monitor dialogues between our two churches, to resource developing Anglican-Methodist relationships throughout the world, and to propose ways forward for the visible unity of Anglicans and Methodists. But at the core of our work is the desire to see us move forward together in effective mission to the world.

PH: What are some of the areas of Anglican-Methodist conversational challenge?

BHM: One area of challenge revolves around the 'historic episcopate', although space in an interview like this won't permit doing the matter justice. Although there are bishops within Methodism, Methodist bishops have not been within the historic episcopate. That said, while historically there have not been bishops in Britain and Ireland, the vast majority of Methodists worldwide are episcopally governed. Indeed, I heard of Methodist Conferences in some parts of the world which have as many as a  thousand ministers under one bishop, and a Methodist bishop may have great power in determining where a minister will exercise ministry – indeed much greater power than any Anglican bishop! Our meeting together highlighted usefully the fact that Methodism has no philosophical objection to bishops – though the history of Methodism would make them rightly nervous about the wrong kind of prelacy!

Some other very interesting conversations have taken place around other historical theological differences: on matters such as predestination and free-will and the Methodist understanding of Christian perfection – two areas of difference which would not be thought of as church-dividing today. Interestingly, it is often in areas such as how we go about administering Holy Communion that strongly-felt difference can emerge: for example, the use of non-alcoholic wine, and small glasses rather than a common cup. However, it is widely accepted that we are together in the essentials of Christian faith, and that there are bigger differences within each of our denominations than there are between our two Churches.

PH: In 'getting to know one another', what did you learn about Methodism?

BHM: It was fascinating for someone from these islands to discover that Methodism is the same size – more or less – as Anglicanism. In the USA the Methodist Church is around four times the size of the Episcopal Church, while of course in Ireland the Church of Ireland is numerically larger than the Methodist Church. It was a helpful discovery because it contextualises any smaller/larger factor which may creep into our thinking. In any situation of predominance there is always a danger of the fear of one tradition being subsumed: a fear which, I believe, is largely unfounded.

PH: What's next and what are your hopes for AMICUM?

BHM:  The next meeting will be in England in February 2010 and it is envisaged that the Commission will meet annually over the next five years, reporting regularly to our own Communions. At the end of the day, we hope that we might find a way forward on some of the ‘key’ issues such as the inter-changeability of ministries, but above all else, we are hopeful that the Commission will be used to bring about the closer unity of our two traditions, as we serve in the mission of Jesus Christ.

For further information please contact:

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Paul Harron

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Peter Cheney

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Janet Maxwell

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