Church News:

(1) Anglican-Catholic Unity Ahead
(2) Gay-Loving Bishops Attack Traditionalists & Bible
(3) Methodists pray to Mother God

These reports from the Daily Telegraph [UK national newspaper] demonstrate the state of the established Church today, and show where we are heading.

Carey in Millennium talks with Pope

By Victoria Combe, Religion Correspondent
Friday 12 February 1999

THE Archbishop of Canterbury will meet the Pope today to discuss closer collaboration between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches for the Millennium. Dr George Carey, who arrived in Rome last night, will spend half an hour with the Pope in private inside the Vatican. Dr Carey is expected to suggest more intense collaboration on international debt. Both leaders have declared their desire for debts in the poorest countries to be cancelled by 2000 and Dr Carey is likely to propose a joint strategy. Other common concerns include the persecution of Christians in the Sudan.

Carey and Pope seek big push for union

By Victoria Combe and Bruce Johnston
Monday 15 February 1999

THE stalemate in talks between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches was abandoned this weekend after negotiations between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope.

At a meeting in the Vatican on Saturday, they agreed that something dramatic was needed if the Churches were to obey the Biblical imperative to be one in the next Millennium. They decided on an international conference in Canada in May 2000 of all Anglican and Catholic archbishops, the first time the entire hierarchies will have met to discuss healing their four-century-old rift.

The leaders hope that the conference will revive unity talks which broke down after the Church of England's ordination of women in 1992.

The archbishop's spokesman said the details of the conference had not been decided, but the agenda would examine an "overall strategy for future work together". The conference will not avoid difficult matters, such as shared communion and mixed marriages. The Churches disagree on several issues, including the authority of the Pope, women's ministry and the place of the Virgin Mary.

The Pope and Dr Carey also discussed their common concern for the cancellation of Third World debt for the Millennium. They agreed to work together on this. "We look forward to the opportunity offered by the celebration of the great jubilee for Churches throughout the world," said their statement, "to demonstrate their unity in Christ and their common commitment to justice, particularly in encouraging Christians to play their part in the campaign against unpayable debt in the global south."

As Dr Carey left the meeting, the Pope stood in the doorway and waved, saying: "We will meet again."

Earlier, Dr Carey told reporters: "After 30 or 35 years, it is time for leaders to be central to the dialogue." He dismissed claims by Graham James, Bishop of St Germans, and a former chaplin, that Church in-fighting had left him "physically tired and emotionally exhausted", and that his marriage had been "close to breaking point". While he seemed tired, he was optimistic and cheerful.

Representatives travelling with him said that the Canada meeting would be headed by Dr Carey and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. The Canada meeting follows a Common Declaration in favour of further dialogue made by Dr Carey and the Pope, after they last met in 1996, and an "overwhelming response" to the idea by Anglican primates and presidents of Catholic Bishops' Conferences.

Dr Carey later met members of the Curia, including Cardinal Cassidy. He told reporters that there had been major long-term progress between the Churches, although women's ordination had been a stumbling block. However, preaching later the same day for the first time in a Catholic Church in Rome, the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Dr Carey asked Catholics to be "more patient" about divisions among Christians.

The Rev Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham, chairman of the Anglican Centre and co-chairman of the Inter-Church Commission on dialogue, said that in the talks, which had laid the way for the Canada meeting, there had been "very close agreement, except on the ordination of women". The question of authority remained the area where there was least agreement, "and you can't talk about communion without talking about authority". The Vatican has announced that the Pope will go to Romania in May, the first predominantly Orthodox country to be visited by the Pontiff. The visit could help to smooth the way for him to visit Russia.

Bishops turn out in force at gay meeting

By Jonathan Petre
Sunday 7 February 1999

CHURCH of England bishops gave an unprecedented degree of moral support to campaigners for gay rights yesterday by flocking to a private conference organised by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

To the fury of traditionalists, a dozen bishops - one representing the Archbishop of York - attended the lobby group's largest one-day conference to date, held at Derby University.

Though the bishops said they were "listening", critics accused them of undermining the stance against homosexuality adopted by the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly gathering of worldwide Anglican bishops. A number of the bishops told the conference that they were "ashamed" of what had happened at Lambeth and felt that "evil and sinister forces had been at work".

They heard the Primus of the Scottish Anglican Church, Bishop Richard Holloway, lambast traditionalist bishops, largely from Africa and Asia, who had outvoted the liberals at Lambeth. He said many "seemed to treat the Bible like an infallible law book that needed no interpretation, and allowed no variation in approach". "It was interpreted by them as though it had been personally written by God and sent by registered mail."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, was criticised by many at the meeting for supporting the Lambeth resolution which condemned the ordination of practising homosexuals and homosexual "marriage".

Although yesterday's organisers refused to disclose the names of any of the bishops attending - and the press were barred - three diocesans confirmed their presence: the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Rev Jonathan Bailey, the Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Peter Selby, and the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Jack Nicholls.

Suffragan bishops included the Bishop of Selby, the Rt Rev Humphrey Taylor, the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Rev Michael Bourke, and the Bishop of Swindon, the Rt Rev Michael Doe. Bishop Taylor represented the Archbishop of York, but Lambeth Palace did not send a representative.

Although the Church's leadership says it has no plans to depart from its present policy, which bars practising homosexuals from becoming priests, traditionalists fear that pressure is fast growing for change. The Rev Philip Hacking, chairman of the evangelical group Reform, said: "There is no doubt that some bishops - led by the likes of Richard Holloway - would like to overturn what the majority of Anglicans believe. Bishops who seek to undermine the Bible's teaching - as endorsed by the overwhelming majority of Anglican bishops worldwide - are bringing a crisis on the Church of England."

Methodists to worship 'God the Mother'

By Victoria Combe, Religion Correspondent
Thursday 18 February 1999

THE Methodist Church broke with centuries of Christian tradition yesterday and included the first prayer to "God the Mother" in its worship book for the Millennium.

The prayer, which initially was removed from the book because of protests from traditionalists, appears in one of nine services for Holy Communion. It reads:

God our Father and our Mother,
we give you thanks and praise for all that you have made,
for the stars in their splendour and the world in its wonder
and for the glorious gift of human life.
With the saints and angels in heaven,
we praise your holy name.

It is the first time in Britain that a mainstream Church has referred to God as a woman in an official service book, although feminists and liberals have been pressing for it for decades.

The 600-page Methodist Worship Book, which has taken nine years to complete, replaces the 1975 text and will be used for the first time in Methodist churches on Easter Sunday.

The Methodist liturgical committee yesterday dismissed claims that the prayer was in any way radical and said that the femininity of God was referred to in the Bible and the prayers of the medieval mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich.

The Prophet Isaiah (ch.66, v.13) recounts the words of God: "As a mother comforts her son so shall I comfort you." And Psalm 131 speaks about the relationship with God being like a weaned child clinging to its mother.

The Rev Neil Dixon, the secretary of the Faith and Order Committee, said the prayer was not an attempt to change the gender of God. During a press conference in Welsey's Chapel in the City of London Mr Dixon said: "God is not a person. God is a spirit and is neither male nor female. He is beyond gender. The fact we have used male imagery for centuries has reinforced the image of God as a man. But if all human beings are created in God's image then feminine as well as masculine attributes must reflect God's nature."

The Methodist Church was ahead of the Church of England by 20 years in accepting women's ministry and there is no office in the Church which is closed to women ministers.

The marriage service in the new worship book also removes the ceremony of "giving away" the bride by her father. This feature of the wedding is replaced with an option for both the bride and bridegroom to be "presented" at the altar by a friend or relative.

The Methodist Church has a more liberal attitude to the remarriage of divorcees than the Church of England and currently 63 per cent of its weddings involve at least one divorced person. A subtle acknowledgement of the number of marriages that fail is included in the opening words for the minister in the wedding service. In the 1975 text, the minister says: "According to the teaching of Christ, marriage is the lifelong union in body, mind and spirit." The new version, however, declares it to be God's will that "husband and wife should experience a lifelong unity of heart, body and mind".

Mr Dixon said: "It is not a theological shift, but we do want to provide material which people feel comfortable with."

However, it was not the wedding service or God the Mother which sparked controversy within the Church, but a decision to drop the "prayer for humble access" before Holy Communion from a number of services. The liturgical committee tried to weed the prayer out of the service on the grounds that it was "grovelly" and placed too much emphasis on sin.

The prayer, which begins "We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord . . .", no longer appears in the services for Easter, Christmas and two ordinary season Holy Communion services. But after sacks of letters calling for the prayer to be rescued, the liturgical committee has restored the prayer to other services. Rev Norman Wallwork, one of 15 members of the liturgical committee, said: "An overriding element of the Eucharist is to be lifted up by the healing of God. We do not want people to be brought down at this holy moment and reminded they are a sinner."

The new worship book, which is on sale at 15, also includes for the first time funeral services for a child and for a stillborn baby.