By Cian Molloy - 20 October, 2017
Pope Francis met with leaders of the World Methodist Council in Rome yesterday, to celebrate 50 years of dialogue between the two Christian churches.
The Methodist-Catholic Commission was one of the first, if not the first, international commissions established by the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council and relations between the two Christian Churches have never been as good.
Indeed, the Pope acknowledged that the example of holiness offered by the founders of Methodism, John Wesley and his brother Charles, had brought many people to Christ. And he added that when we recognise the working of the Holy Spirit in other Christian Churches ‘we cannot fail to rejoice, as this can help us grow closer to the Lord’. He also noted that in many parts of the world Catholics and Methodists work together to serve the poor and those who are alienated or in need.
On the island of Ireland, the Methodist Church has some 49,000 members, with the vast majority of these living in Northern Ireland. According to the 2016 Census, there are just under 6,500 Methodists living in the Republic.
Originally started by John Wesley as a movement within the Anglican Church in the 18th century, Methodism was suppressed by the English authorities for decades.Despite this, at the time of his death, Wesley, was described as ‘the best loved man in England’.
Among the many things that the Methodist and Catholic Churches have in common is the belief in the triune God and a belief that Jesus is human as well as divine and that people are saved through faith in him. Both Churches teach that non-Christians can also be saved and both regard it as important to help all those in need, regardless of religious affiliation. As a result of this shared concern for the less well off, in many parts of the English-speaking world, Catholics and Methodists have found common political cause with one another in working for justice and peace.
A key difference is that the Methodist Church only celebrates two sacraments: baptism and communion. Methodists refer to communion as ‘the Lord’s supper’ and see it as ‘a holy meal of bread and wine that symbolises the body and blood of Christ’.
The Methodist Church is noted for having a strong tradition of lay preaching and perhaps, as the Catholic Church experiences a shortage of ordinations to the priesthood, the Catholic Church in Ireland could learn from this.
Noting that in the Old Testament, part of the celebrations surrounding the marking of a golden jubilee involved the freeing of slaves, Pope Francis told the World’s Methodist leaders who had travelled to Rome: “We too have been freed from the slavery of estrangement and mutual suspicion.”