The proposals for an Anglican Methodist Covenant, signed in November 2003, were developed during formal conversations which led to the publication of a Common Statement in December 2000.
This followed the work of a series of Informal Conversations held in 1995 and 1996 which identified a common understanding of the goal of visible unity.
The Common Statement sets down what the two churches agree in faith, their shared understanding of the nature of visible unity, mutual acknowledgements and commitments to each other and the identification of the next steps to be taken.
The Church of England and the Methodist Church already share a wide experience of working together locally, especially in Local Ecumenical Partnerships. During the Formal Conversations, the two churches focused particularly on how they can work together practically and grow together in fellowship in every place and at every level of each church's life.
Ever since the time of John and Charles Wesley, there has been something ambiguous about the relationship between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.
The Wesleys founded an organisation which became a separate denomination. But they themselves remained priests in the Church of England until they died.
The relationship between the two churches since then, for more than two centuries, has been complex and constantly evolving:
"Anglican-Methodist separation may be seen as mutual estrangement which has changed both of us so that we cannot now think in terms of returning to where we were. Our culture as well as our theology and practice have developed independently and we will both need to move on if we are to find a new and common future. In this seeking of a new future, we need to bring our whole selves, past as well as present..." (Common Statement paragraph 42)
In the 1960s, in the context of the growing movement among all the Christian Churches to find visible unity, The Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain negotiated proposals for union. Many from both Churches remember when these proposals failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in the Church of England's General Synod. Work done then, however, has provided a good foundation for today's Covenant.
"Disappointed hopes over the failure of earlier unity proposals have also left painful memories ... The healing of memories is a necessary part of the healing of the wounds of division in the body of Christ." (Common Statement paragraph 38)
"Our aim is not to put the clock back, to gloss over differences, and to construct a monochrome unity. It is to harvest our diversity, to share our treasures and to remedy our shortcomings, so that we may enjoy together what we believe God has already given our churches and still holds in store for us." (Common Statement paragraph 42)
Conversations involving the United Reformed Church
While the formal conversations were in progress, the Church of England and the Methodist Church were also involved in Informal Conversations with the United Reformed Church. These conversations began in 1999 and opened up exploration of the issues of eldership and conciliarity between the three churches.
These Informal Conversations also provided a vehicle of interaction between the United Reformed Church and the Formal Conversations between the Church of England and the Methodist Church.