Anglican-Methodist relations

The Library was represented at an event at the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History exploring sources on the topic of Anglican-Methodist union.

For instance among the Library’s holdings we find the papers of Arthur Headlam, Bishop of Gloucester, an important ecumenist whose Bampton lectures at Oxford concerned reunion with the nonconformist churches. His papers include material on a conference on this topic which took place in 1920 [MS 2628].

Subsequent developments included controversies around the inception of the Church of South India (CSI), which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. In 1947 it united denominations in India including the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland. This features in the papers of Archbishop Fisher, Bishop Bell of Chichester, Bishop Palmer of Bombay, and Bishop Carpenter-Garnier of Colombo. This was in the context of Archbishop Fisher’s high-profile Cambridge sermon of 1946 when in the university church he called on the Free Churches to ‘take episcopacy into their system’. Although sympathetic to ecumenical relations – for instance favouring the CSI scheme – Fisher was famously vocal in his retirement and he opposed the scheme configured for Anglican-Methodist union itself in the late 1960s.

The matter famously looms large in the story of Fisher’s successor, Archbishop Ramsey. He was raised partly within the Congregational as well as within the Anglican tradition and “healing of the schism between Methodists and Anglicans through a union scheme was dear to Ramsey’s heart” (Dictionary of National Biography).  Despite his support, failure to gain the required majorities from Anglicans at the Church Assembly in 1969 was a great blow to him. Inevitably, the Ramsey collection in the Library contains a multitude of papers on this topic and the papers of his successor Archbishop Coggan continue the story. The minutes of Bishops’ Meetings, while not voluminous, also cover Anglican views on developments at a high level. In addition, a series of twelve volumes covering 1956-72 document the Anglican-Methodist Conversations, ranging through the interim statement of 1958, report of 1963, commission set up in 1965, further statement in 1967 and report in 1968, to the failure of 1969 [MSS 4208-4219].


Archbishop Ramsey pictured on Albert Embankment, 1964 [CIO/PHO/NEG/446].

Among Library collections received from external sources we also find evidence of the responses to proposals for union from various other individuals and church bodies. The papers of George Bell include material on Anglican-Methodist conversations from 1956 to his death in 1958; he was its first Anglican co-chairman. Six volumes of the papers of Eric Kemp, Bishop of Chichester, cover Anglican-Methodist unity, representing his membership of the Convocations joint committee which produced the 1958 statement and 1963 report, membership of the 1965 commission, and joint chairmanship of the Anglican-Methodist Group appointed by General Synod in 1971 [MSS 3555-3560]. One of the volumes of papers of Robert Stopford, Bishop of London, documents his role as co-chairman of the Anglican-Methodist unity commission during the 1960s, including correspondence with Archbishop Fisher [MS 3423]. The Library also holds his typescript memoir, including reflections on ecumenical relations [MS 5056]. The subject also appears within the papers of his successor Gerald Ellison [Ellison O/2/2].


There are further relevant holdings at the Library’s sister repository, the Church of England Record Centre. Records of the Missionary and Ecumenical Council of the Church Assembly include a series of files on Anglican-Methodist Relations [MEC AM], illuminating some of the background story. The material includes correspondence, speeches, press cuttings, minutes of meetings, reports and other papers from the 1950s to the 1970s. They include papers of David Paton, secretary of the Council 1959-69 – son of the noted ecumenist William Paton.

The Library also holds earlier sources on Methodism, including papers of George Lavington, Bishop of Exeter from 1747 until his death in 1762. He purchased a significant collection of books on the Moravians from Henry Rimius, which passed via Archbishop Secker to Lambeth Palace Library. Lavington’s own papers now form part of the Secker papers in the Library and they include material on the Methodists as well as the Moravians [Secker 8]. Lavington was author of The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists, Compar’d, an unfavourable representation of their activities. His ire was originally aroused when a document purporting to be part of his primary visitation charge was circulated representing him as a supporter of Methodism. The papers at Lambeth include an autograph letter of 1739 from John Wesley to his brother Samuel, and documents on Methodist activities in the west country – such as an allegation by Mr. Morgan, keeper of the ‘Feather Inn’ at Mitchell, Cornwall, that John Wesley refused to pay for anything on the grounds that he was an Apostle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s