British Methodists will debate the issue of the 'broken line of apostolic succession' and discuss whether the Church should consecrate their very first Bishops during their meeting in Torquay next month. Churchgoers will also be asked whether they believe the proposed plans fit with the Methodist traditions.
"We want to know whether our people would recognise bishops as Methodist rather than as something alien being transplanted in," said Assistant Secretary of the Conference, Reverend Kenneth Howcroft.
It is already known that some Methodists do not want bishops to be implemented into the Methodist Church structure, and some have expressed reservations concerning the system of bishops - which traditionally is viewed as an Anglican system.
"We have our own ways of living in communion, and we want to offer that back to other churches. How a communion coheres is an Anglican issue, and we are working on that in our own terms. We might have something to add to the debate," stated Mr. Howcroft.
He continued, "The closer we got to the Church of England, the more we realised that we would have to develop our own thinking about bishops, so that we had something to bring to the table. Otherwise, we would find ourselves accepting the Church of England model by default."
The question before the Methodist Church is whether 'an order of bishops' will help in its pastoral or missionary tasks and its ecumenical relations.
The Church will want to ensure that people know that ordaining bishops would not be an admission that the Church lacked anything essential, but would promote that it is only a sign of Episcopal succession if it did not involve rejecting what it 'believed itself to have received from God'.
Methodist bishops, men and women, would be bishops for life alongside others, taking their place within the threefold order of ministry and they would expect to be involved in ordination 'subject to the decisions of Conference'. The President would always 'automatically' be ordained.
In the United States, the 8-million-member United Methodist Church ordains "bishops for life" every four years. These bishops serve as the ecclesiastical heads and regional spokespersons for their respective jurisdictions.
There have also been five different models of who would become bishops that have been suggested by the Methodist Church:
1) one bishop the Conference President
2) President and selected past Presidents
3) President and district chairs
4) President, district chairs and secretary
5) President, selected past Presidents and three superintendents or other presbyters in each district
Two questions have been posed by the Methodist Council and faith committee. One is whether the report adequately expresses a Methodist understanding of episcopacy, and secondly who should be the specific representatives of corporate episcope.
After the Conference, the Methodist Church in Britain and ecumenical partners will discuss all the options and a response will be sent to the general secretary by the end of October 2006.
At a later date, the case will be returned to the Methodist Conference in 2007 for what the report describes as a decision 'whether to embrace the historic episcopate'.