Irish Council of Churches. Irish Inter-Church Meeting

Sermon preached by Bishop Sarah Groves, New ICC President






© Moravian Church

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight – Our Lord and Saviour

The following was preached at the ICC Annual Meeting in April 2024.

The Road to Emmaus – the narrative that we have all heard so many times, preached on and reflected on – I have nothing new to say on this that has not been said so many times before – it is a beautiful and polished story that each time it is used gives a reflection into our lives. All I can do is tell you why I love it and what it might give us today as a reflection on our lives and where we are together.

Its about walking, talking, sharing, learning, eating – 5 of my favourite things and then of course central to it all but mostly hidden is Jesus – the unseen companion and the unseen guest. Those dear disciples walking a well worn path together with so many questions and uncertainties and this in a world of trouble and grief.

There is something about the rhythm of walking, the steady pace and the regular breathing, and that time away from regular work and having that time with each other.

And that is something so important for the Irish Council of Churches – that we take time away from the regular work of our Churches and walk and talk together about our certainties yes of course but perhaps almost more importantly our uncertainties. And we have that time to learn more about each other as people and our Churches and traditions and this journey is not just for ourselves but for the sake of the Kingdom.

And that journey is never complete, the landscape is always changing; new people join the journey and others leave as they move on or retire – there are always new perspectives as society and circumstances change. And as we meet together we learn to see people as individuals not just as labels and office holders.

So a bit about me – its obvious I don’t come from these parts – I come from deep rural England, on the English side of the border with Wales – so part of me is Wenglish – and I was baptised into the Church in Wales. The only Church in our village was a Moravian Church, planted there as a missionary outpost from Bristol. And that Church would have been closed in 1960 if it had not been for a Welsh Baptist minister, Rev Dennis Monger, who heard of the closure of the only place of worship in the village and who offered to the Moravian authorities to keep it open as a Moravian Church. And God bless them for ever the Moravian authorities in London took the risk – as it was then, to allow this Baptist minister to keep the Church open. Mr Monger, that Baptist minister was there for 30 years faithfully preaching, teaching and visiting – as a Baptist when he was in Wales and as a Moravian when he crossed the bridge into Brockweir. It was to that Moravian Church that I went as a child to Sunday school and as a worshipper when I came to faith as a teenager.

That example of that real denominational generosity has been a guiding image for me every since. When I trained for the ministry, I was first at the Anglican Gloucester School for Ministry and then at Bristol Baptist College. After ordination I was very privileged to spend my first years in ministry in Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

The Church then moved me to Yorkshire where my husband and I were there for 17 years. 9 of those years were in inner city Bradford and again I was so blessed to be part of an inter Church ecumenical scheme of Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and other Churches looking at how we could support the Churches in inner city Bradford. I was also involved as part of a City Deal and a local interfaith forum. I had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with the local Muslim community. There I understood a mixed marriage to be between a Christian and a Muslim! In that context I learnt again the importance of talking of our faith, listening to the other, being open to learning and sharing food together – I was truly blessed by ecumenical friends and partners and those I came to know from a different faith background. The text that kept coming back to me was from Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon 29:7 Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile

I have learnt that none of us have the full picture, the totality of the good news of who God is and what he has done for us through Jesus, none of us can really grasp what it means for the Lamb of God to come to us and live our lives and die for us, or the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of us bring what we understand and we put it together for a greater perspective – the modern phrase is ‘gift ecumenism’ but this understanding is not new and can be traced back to Count Zinzendorf who said each denomination is like a facet of a beautiful jewel.

So I really look forward to working closer with you all, of walking together and sharing our riches – metaphorically not literally as I realise the real problems of finance that we all face – but working on our hopes and dreams and the fears we hate to confess. I am not naive enough to believe that we will always agree – there are real and deep differences in our cultures and understanding and it is not easy to cross those at times. 

Faith can often produce the deepest of divisions. But we are brought together not because we agree, not because we are first friends but because we are called together in fellowship with God – we have fellowship with God and because of that we have fellowship with each other. (1 john 1;6–7) So it’s not that we have come together as a group of friends, but we have come together despite our differences because we are all friends of God. His is the initiative and the desire of his Son is that we should be one, relating to the closeness of Jesus and the Father – that we may be one as we are one (John 17:20–23)

So this coming together is important for its own sake; and that the world may see that we are united, when so often we are seen as divided; and that we may learn more of our Lord together

But we also come together for the sake of the communities in which we are set. Cleophas and his companion, the minute they realise that the Lord has been with them on the journey and in their home, rush back to Jerusalem. They leave the comfort, security of their home and race back in the dark to the confusion and danger of Jerusalem to say that they have seen the Lord. What they have learnt and shared is of such importance that they have to go back out

So we come together because we like Cleophas and his companion have to go back out to share with others what we have learnt of the goodness of the Lord and his purposes for this world; just as Jeremiah told the exiles, seek the good of the city and as Jesus taught us to pray that thy kingdom come, on earth as it has in heaven.

So I pray that walking together, talking and sharing, eating and dreaming will be blessed in the coming years and that in so doing we will continue to be a blessing to the world around us