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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 November, 2003, 15:16 GMT
Anglicans and Methodists end rift
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Queen and President of the Methodist Conference Dr Neil Richardson  (l-r)
The Queen joined the heads of the Anglican and Methodist churches for the ceremony
The Church of England and the Methodist Church have taken a step towards mending a 200-year-old rift.

The Queen saw the two churches sign a national covenant under which they will move towards sharing services, clergy and resources.

The churches split in the late 1790s in a dispute about the role of bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said at the signing ceremony that any splits in the Anglican church over homosexuality would eventually be healed.

Openly gay Canon Gene Robinson is due to be ordained as Bishop of New Hampshire on Sunday, in a move which has threatened to divide the Anglican community.

Dr Rowan Williams told the covenant ceremony in Westminster, London, that both sides in the current troubles were considering a "risky break with what we have thought of as orthodoxy and good order".

But even if they did not hold together, God "will still teach us in our separateness" and eventually there would be reconciliation, he said.

'Arrogance and resentment'

Dr Williams said that two centuries ago "the insensitivity and missionary sluggishness of the Church of England provoked a dramatic act of protest from John Wesley; and our two families began to grow apart".

But during their separation both churches had been "given gifts" and learned lessons they might not have learned had this never happened, he said.

"We have all, in the intervening years, discovered things about Christ and his kingdom that we are now eager to share with each other, as brothers and sisters working to overcome the distant legacy of arrogance and resentment," he said.

The covenant was signed by church leaders at a service of celebration in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster.

This was followed by a service of thanksgiving and dedication in Westminster Abbey.

The Queen was present as head of the Church of England.

'Clearing the decks'

The covenant was signed on behalf of the Church of England by Dr Williams, the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, and the secretary general of the Archbishops' Council, William Fittall.

The Methodist Church signatories were the president of the Methodist Conference, the Reverend Dr Neil Richardson, the vice president of the conference, Judy Jarvis, and the general secretary of the Methodist Church, The Reverend David Deeks.

Dr Richardson said: "The covenant is about more than the patching up of a family quarrel which got out of hand a couple of centuries ago.

"It's about acknowledging that we cannot preach reconciliation to the world if we don't practise what we preach.

"It's about clearing the decks to release new energy and redeploy resources."

The covenant has been described as a commitment to unity, rather than unity itself, and "more an engagement than a wedding," between the two churches.

The Methodist Church disagrees with the Church of England over female priests.

The Church of England has questioned the Methodist practice of occasionally allowing non-ordained people to preside at communion services.

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