100 years ago today, on the 23rd of January 1923, representatives of seven churches met together at the first meeting of the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communities in Ireland. This was one of the earliest national ecumenical bodies in the world.
The churches represented were the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church, Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, Moravian Church, Congregational Union, and the Religious Society of Friends/Quakers.
One hundred years later, ICC has 15 member churches. In addition to the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church, Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, Moravian Church, and the Religious Society of Friends/Quakers from the original members, the following churches now participate in the council (in order of their joining): the Salvation Army, Lutheran Church in Ireland, Greek Orthodox Church, Cherubim and Seraphim Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Antiochian Orthodox, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Indian Orthodox Church, and the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. The membership thus represents the continuously broadening landscape of the Christian church in Ireland.
Yesterday, ICC celebrated its centenary with a special service of worship at Belfast Cathedral. The service, with the theme ‘Celebrating our Reconciling Vision of Hope’ was attended by representatives from 15 all–Ireland member denominations, as well as representatives of the Catholic Church.
Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and the Rev Dr Harold Good, former President of the Methodist Church, both delivered an address. The service was led by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde.
The service also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks, which led to the establishment of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting. In 1973, in the midst of The Troubles, the Council began ground–breaking historic talks in Ballymascanlon Hotel in County Louth with senior members of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Over the course of time, these became formalised as the Irish Inter–Church Meeting (IICM), the means by which the ICC continues to engage and collaborate with the Catholic Church.
Reflecting on this point in history, Archbishop Martin said that it was a credit to the pioneers of Ballymascanlon that the congregation in the Cathedral “could gather today as true friends in Christ, and much closer companions on the Way, as brothers and sisters who can share each other’s joys and burdens and be open and honest about our successes and our vulnerabilities.”
Continuing, he said, “Peace, reconciliation and forgiveness on this island will only be progressed by bringing to light the truths that remain hidden and festering about our troubled past, and by engaging in respectful conversations across our communities about what we mean by a shared future.
“It may seem ambitious, but might we in the Churches offer to help develop an agreed truth recovery process to address the legacy of pain and mistrust that continues to hang over us? And might our Churches also work together to create spaces for dialogue at parish, congregation and community level so that all voices can be fully heard about the kind of society and values we want for our children and grandchildren?
The text of Archbishop Martin’s address is available here.
Dr Good spoke of the Christian Churches bringing humility and hope to realising a vision of reconciliation. He said, “Let us not under–estimate the impact of the words of the late Queen Elizabeth during her historic visit to Dublin, when in humility she spoke of things which could have been done differently, or not at all. Just imagine if following this service, each of us was resolved to acknowledge the hurt which collectively – if not individually – we have inflicted upon each other and for which we now seek to be reconciled.”
Dr Good added, “Hope looks at the world as it is and responds with a determination to change it. The shared hope of which we speak is rooted in the unshakeable conviction that if we say and do and be the people that we are called to be, God will not be found wanting.” He noted that “at the centre of our shared faith is the unshakable belief in Resurrection. And, as the Easter people, it is to us that God has entrusted this Gospel of Hope.”
Rev Dr Good’s address can be accessed here.
Members of the public joined representatives from the Irish Council of Churches and Irish Inter–Church Meeting at the service. The congregation also included The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Tina Black, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Chris Heaton–Harris MP, and the Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD.
Speaking after the service Bishop Andrew Forster, as President of the ICC, said, “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to come to St Anne’s today to worship God together and share with us this significant milestone in inter–church relations on this island, especially Archbishop Eamon and Dr Good for their addresses. In eternity, 100 years is but a blink of an eye, not even that, but in the context of our human story a century is a significant moment.”
Bishop Leahy, the IICM’s Co–Chair, added, “I think those who attended each of these historic events 50 and 100 years ago would want us today to be grateful that after all that has happened on this Ireland over the past century we were able to join together to worship God, thanking Him as we continue to pray for the unity that is Christ’s gift to the Church, and for a servant heart. In humility, may we serve and love one another in and across communities and in doing so work for the common good.”
The order of service is available here.