The 95th Annual Meeting of the Irish Council of Churches took place in Drogheda Presbyterian Church on Thursday 22nd March 2018. The meeting brought together delegates from the fourteen member churches of the ICC, together with representatives of partner organisations. The central theme for the meeting was the challenge of reconciliation, twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement.
In his keynote address, Mr Kevin Conmy, Irish Government representative from the British–Irish Joint Secretariat, outlined the priority concerns of the Irish Government under the headings of “Courage, Cooperation and Reconciliation”. Delegates were reminded that the spirit of ‘98 had been about “going the extra mile” and “stretching ourselves for peace”. The role of churches as leaders in the community was emphasised in the context of the significance of community leadership in creating the context for the peace process: “Away from the headlines and the history books there are those whose names will never be recorded but whose courage in their communities was the bedrock on which peace was built.”
This year’s annual meeting also saw the transfer of the ICC Presidency from Bishop John McDowell, Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, to Rev Brian Anderson of the Methodist Church. Reflecting on his two–year Presidency of ICC, Bishop McDowell underlined the value of the cooperation modelled by ICC — founded on unity in diversity — to a wider society which, both locally and globally, is going through a period of deep uncertainty and upheaval: “churches working together certainly still have a role to play as advocates, particularly giving a voice to people who have no voices… but our real vocation is to build communities of faith at the local level which show that generosity is to be preferred over spitefulness and mercy over revenge.”
This theme was further developed by incoming President, Rev Brian Anderson, with an address focussed on the common good: “It is important not to lose sight of the important achievements of our peace process, which has been inspirational around the world, but we cannot fail to acknowledge that our society is fractured — politically, socially, economically, culturally… and while we may not be optimistic we must be Agents of Hope… Our hope is based on redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and care of the neighbour.”
Rev Brian Anderson takes over as President of the ICC after 22 years as a Methodist Minister. He was President of the Methodist Church in Ireland from 2015–2016. Throughout his ministry he has had a particular focus on community development, founding several social outreach initiatives in the areas where has been based. He has been active in local ecumenical networks wherever he has served and is committed to helping churches look beyond their own walls.
Speaking about his new appointment Rev Anderson said: “I am conscious that I am taking up this post at a uniquely challenging time for Northern Ireland society, when the threat of polarisation is keenly felt once again in our local communities. I am keen to continue to build on the work of my predecessors and work to ensure that the national ecumenical structures in Ireland serve the common good and continue to promote peace, reconciliation and togetherness through the challenging times ahead.”