The 99th Annual Meeting of the Irish Council of Churches took place in East Belfast Mission Methodist Church on 31st March 2022.
The meeting was the context for the election of Bishop Andrew Forster as ICC President for 2022–2024, replacing the Very Rev Ivan Patterson whose term came to an end. Bishop Sarah Groves of the Moravian Church was elected Vice President for 2022–2024 and will serve as President from 2024–2026. The 2021 Annual Report was shared with AGM delegates and is also available here on the ICC website.
The theme of the meeting was “The Unfinished Work of Peace”, based on a consultation document prepared by ICC last year. This document examines the role of the national ecumenical bodies in peacebuilding and reconciliation work, the various methods by which they have pursued this calling in the past, and seeks to stimulate discussion of a new vision for a shared future that can guide and inspire this work in future years.
Rev Dr Tony Davidson, a former president of ICC gave the keynote address, reflecting on this document and challenging the churches in Ireland to collaborate in articulating such a vision, inspired by the Christ who takes the inevitability out of history, set free from the seeming inertia of the status quo.
In a panel discussion on local inter–church reconciliation work, the meeting heard from Gladys Ganiel, who spoke about her involvement in the 4 Corners Festival, Hedley Abernethy of Corrymeela; Rev Tracey McRoberts, rector at St Matthew’s on the Shankill; and Ed Petersen of Clonard Monastery.
In his remarks as outgoing ICC President, Rev Patterson also reflected on the churches calling to peacebuilding, pointing out that God chose us in Christ and made peace in Christ so that we would be reconciled to him. He is a God of peace. However, peacemaking is a difficult path to take, especially when it challenges old loyalties and thought patterns. We need to have the humility to unlearn prejudices. For this to happen we need spaces for people to speak and listen to one another. That is part of what ICC tries to do.
Bishop Forster, in his reflection as incoming ICC President, recalled the origins of the ICC 99 years ago and the Irish Inter–Church Meeting (through which ICC collaborates with the Catholic Bishops Conference) 49 years ago. Continuing the thoughts from Rev Davidson on the importance of vision, he noted how far the vision that inspired those courageous initiatives has carried us. This was illustrated by prayer walk around the walls of Derry/Londonderry that he and Bishop Donal McKeown undertook in January during the week of prayer for Christian Unity. Fifty years ago that walk would have been impossible, but now is regarded as obvious, and almost mundane. He closed with a call for continuing this journey of engagement:
As we continue to journey together and move into a year of reflection, we should be really thankful for the journey we have travelled. We are still quick to see disagreements and the still standing walls of division and the hurt of being misunderstood. But we are called to a journey of engagement and understanding and that has become a journey of love. God made us in all our diversity to bless his world and be lights in his world. This is the vision we have – that the church can be a light of hope that can shine on our communities. The journey of the church has been guided by a vision of something better: a reconciled community and reconciled family of God.