26 March 2015

Anglican Studies (2014-2015) 10.2: The Church of Ireland,
ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue

Irish Methodist missionaries commemorated in a window in a Methodist church in Orlando, Florida (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

This week:

Thursday, 26 March 2015, 10 a.m. to 12 noon:

10.2, The Church of Ireland, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue.

10.2, The Church of Ireland, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue.


Dialogue with Irish Churches

We have seen earlier this morning how the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement are normally traced to the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. But even before Edinburgh 1910, the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in Ireland had a joint committee for united efforts from 1904.

In 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church invited other evangelical Churches in Ireland to set up similar joint committees with it. This was difficult for the Presbyterian Church – which still referred to the Church of Ireland as “the Protestant Episcopal Church,” “the former Established Church,” or the “Anglican Church.”

The Church of Ireland accepted and by 1911 the first meeting of representatives of both the General Synod and the General Assembly was held in Dublin and the joint committee of the two Churches began to think about how to co-operate in philanthropic and religious work.

The issues addressed by the joint committee included temperance, national insurance, industrial schools and the Ne Temere decree of 1908.

In 1919, the Bishop of Down, Dromore and Connor, Dr Charles Fredrick D’Arcy (1859-1938), became the first Church of Ireland bishop to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

Continuing dialogue in Ireland:

In response to the 1920 Lambeth Conference appeal, the joint committees formed by the Irish Churches developed in 1923 into the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communions in Ireland, which later became the Irish Council of Churches (1966).

Throughout the 20th century, the Church of Ireland was a party to a number of bilateral discussions. However, dialogue between the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church become informal in 1923 and eventually petered out due to a number of factors, including the unstable political climate in Ireland and internal debates among Presbyterians about the meaning of subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

In 1931, the General Synod once again approached Presbyterians about a “scheme of union or … co-operation.” The ensuing discussions focussed on intercommunion, communicant membership, baptism, and the shared used of church buildings, but made little progress.

The talks eventually came to an end in 1935, and did not resume officially until 1964. Tripartite discussions began in 1968 between the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of Ireland. In 1973 a plan for unity, ‘Towards a United Church,’ was produced but was not received with much enthusiasm.

Discussions continued and material for confirmation classes and a Communion Service for use on inter-Church occasions were produced.

In 1988, a new Joint Theological Working Party was proposed to replace the Tripartite Consultation. This was accepted by the Methodist Church and Church of Ireland but was rejected by the Presbyterian Church.

In 1989, a joint Methodist/Church of Ireland Theological Working Party was set up. A Covenant was agreed between the two churches in June 2002 and the joint Theological Working Party was replaced by a Covenant Council in 2003.

Legislation to regulate full inter-changeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland was approved overwhelmingly by the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last year [May 2014].

A motion before the General Synod in Armagh in May 2015 may be the first step towards entering a similar arrangement with the Moravian Church.

National and international ecumenical bodies:

Of course, the Anglican Communion is not the only communion or grouping of churches of which the Church of Ireland and other Anglican Churches are now a part. In terms of looser alliances and federations, the Church of Ireland is an active member of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC, 1922), Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI, 1942 as BCC, and 1990), the Conference of European Churches (CEC, 1957), and the World Council of Churches (WCC, 1948).

The Irish Council of Churches:

The Irish Council of Churches began as the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communities in Ireland in 1922.

There were seven founding member churches at the council’s first meeting in January 1923: the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Moravian Church, the Congregational Union, and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Today, there are 14 member Churches:

● Antiochian Orthodox Church;
● Cherubim and Seraphim;
● Church of Ireland;
● Greek Orthodox Church;
● Lutheran Church in Ireland;
● Methodist Church in Ireland;
● Moravian Church (Irish District);
● Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (including the Unitarian Church);
● Presbyterian Church in Ireland;
● Redeemed Christian Church of God;
● Religious Society of Friends (Quakers);
● Romanian Orthodox Church;
● Russian Orthodox Church;
● Salvation Army (Irish Division).


Who is missing? Why? Who is there that causes you a surprise?

The current President [2015] is Rev Dr Donald Watts, former Clerk of the Presbyterian Church. The incoming president 2016 is the Right Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, and the immediate past President is the Revd Father Godfrey O’Donnell of the Romanian Orthodox Church, chair of the Orthodox Network of Churches.

The Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland (CTBI):

The British Council of Churches was founded in 1942 and the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church were foundation members.

In August 1990, the British Council of Churches was replaced by the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (now Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, CTBI) with the full participation of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference in England and Wales, and Scotland. The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland are full members of CTBI, but the Presbyterian Church in Ireland declined to join when it was being set up.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC):

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) was founded in 1959. The Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church are full members.

The World Council of Churches (WCC):

The modern ecumenical movement traces its origins to the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910

The World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded in Amsterdam 1948 but has a pre-history dating back to the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910.

Throughout the 20th century, Anglicans played a prominent role in trying to establish these international ecumenical bodies.

Bishop George Bell … a key figure in the formation of the World Council of Church in 1948

The WCC brought together the work of two international inter-church working groups, ‘Life and Work’ and ‘Faith and Order.’ One of the leading figures in these movements was Bishop George Bell (1881-1958), as Dean of Canterbury (1924-1929) and then as Bishop of Chichester (1929-1958). His international contacts, and his continuing dialogue with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other Germans Lutherans in the Confessing Church, and with Swedish Lutherans, were a contributing factor towards the setting up of the WCC after World War II.

The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church are members of the WCC. The Presbyterian Church had been a member, but withdrew in 1980. Bishop Alan Abernethy of Connor is a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.

Porvoo Communion

Bishop Michael Jackson at the signing of the Porvoo Agreement by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark in Copenhagen in October 2010

But the Church of Ireland is also part of a closer communion of churches, which is emerging in Northern Europe and which is being referred to increasingly as the Porvoo Communion – a grouping of more than a dozen Anglican and Lutheran churches in these islands, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

The member churches of the Porvoo Communion (Graphic by Rursus, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The member churches of the Porvoo Communion that have ratified the Porvoo Statement are:

● The four Anglican or Episcopal Churches of England (1995), Ireland (1995), Scotland (1994) and Wales (1995);
● The two Anglican churches in the Iberian peninsula: the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church (2001) the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church, Portugal (2001);
● The seven Lutheran or Evangelical-Lutheran Churches of Estonia (1994), Finland (1995), Iceland (1995), Lithuania (1994), Norway (1994), Sweden (1994) and Denmark (2010).
● The Lutheran Church in Great Britain and Ireland (2014), and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (2010) – they had been observers since 2010.
● The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (1994), has observer status but is not a full member.
● The Moravian Church appears to be applying for membership.

Initially, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark declined to sign Porvoo in the wake of strong criticism from Danish theologians in 1996 about the place of women as priests and bishops in the Church of England. But the Church of Denmark agreed to join in 2009 and signed the Porvoo Agreement in Copenhagen Cathedral in October 2010.

If Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which have their own separate dioceses, become independent states, which is possible within the next decade, then the future of the Church of Greenland and the Church of the Faroe Islands, independent from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, could be worth watching.

This new communion has the prospects of, at some stage, being more important to the Church of Ireland than membership of the Anglican Communion. It dates back beyond those early initiatives at the Lambeth Conference to embrace the Scandinavian Lutherans – particularly the Church of Sweden.

Lutheran bishops from the member Churches of the Porvoo Communion have taken part in many of the recent episcopal consecrations in Ireland: Pat Storey of Meath and Kildare (2013, Bishop Karsten Nissen of Viborg, Denmark), John McDowell of Clogher (2011, Bishop Ingeborg Midttømme, Bishop of Møre, Norway), Trevor Williams of Limerick (2008, the Bishop of Iceland), Alan Abernathy of Connor (2007, Linkoping, Sweden), Michael Burrows of Cashel (2006, Lund, Sweden); Peter Barrett of Cashel (2003, Lund, Sweden, as well as Haarlem, the Old Catholic Church).

Two years ago [April 2013], the Church of Ireland Theological Institute hosted a Porvoo Communion consultation on the diaconate and diaconal ministry.

Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches

Visiting the late Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo

Two former Church of Ireland parish churches host parishes of the Orthodox member churches of the Irish Council of Churches: Christ Church, Leeson Park (Romanian Orthodox) and Harold’s Cross, and the Orthodox Churches are invited in turn to attend the General Synod.

Other churches regularly host Orthodox liturgy in places where there are no formal parish structures, and various Syrian and Indian Orthodox churches use other parish churches.

Archbishop Richard Clarke is intimately involved in the Anglican dialogue at an international level with the Orthodox churches, and in a similar way Archbishop Michael Jackson is involved in Anglican dialogue with what are known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In the past, I have accompanied Irish bishops and Church leaders on visits to the Coptic Patriarch in Cairo, the Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria and Sant Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.

The Church of Ireland and inter-faith dialogue:

Archbishop Michael Jackson and Bishop Trevor Williams visiting a mosque in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

[Discussion: Experiences of inter-faith dialogue]

There is a difference not just in terms of expectations, but in understandings, between inter-church dialogue and inter-faith dialogue.

In the Church of Ireland, the Committee for Christian Unity (now the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue) of the General Synod and the House of Bishops published Guidelines for Interfaith Events and Dialogue in 2007:

Guidelines for Interfaith Events and Dialogue

The Guidelines were written for members of the Church of Ireland to equip them as members of a society experiencing accelerated diversity of faiths and cultures. These Guidelines build on the agreement reached at a Porvoo Consultation in Oslo in 2003.

The Church of Ireland/Methodist Church in Ireland Covenant

Appendix: The Church of Ireland/Methodist Church in Ireland Covenant

The Methodist Church in Ireland
The Church of Ireland

We acknowledge one another’s churches as belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and as truly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.

We acknowledge that in each of our churches the Word of God is authentically preached and the sacraments of baptism and holy communion authentically administered according to the command of Christ.

We acknowledge that both our churches share in a common faith set forth in the scriptures and summarised in the historic creeds.

We acknowledge our common inheritance in traditions of spirituality and liturgy.

We rejoice in our diversity from which we may mutually benefit as we continue to develop varied forms of worship as appropriate to different situations.

We acknowledge each other’s ordained ministries as given by God and as instruments of his grace by which our churches are served and built up. As pilgrims together, we look forward to the time when our ministries can be fully interchangeable and our churches visibly united.

We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight is embodied and practised in both churches, as each seeks to express continuity of apostolic life, mission and ministry.


We believe that God is calling our two churches to a fuller relationship in which we commit ourselves
● to share a common life and mission;
● to grow together so that unity may be visibly realized.

As the next steps towards that goal, we agree:
● to pray for and with one another and to avail of every opportunity to worship together;
● to welcome one another’s members to receive Holy Communion and other ministries as appropriate;
● to share resources in order to strengthen the mission of the Church;
● to help our members to appreciate and draw out the gifts which each of our traditions has to offer the whole people of God;
● to encourage the invitation of authorised persons of each church to minister in the other church, as far as the current disciplines of both churches permit;
● to encourage united Methodist/Church of Ireland congregations
◦ where there are joint church schemes
◦ where new churches are to be planted
◦ where local congregations wish to move in this direction;
● to encourage united Methodist/Church of Ireland chaplaincy work;
● to enable a measure of joint training of candidates for ordained and lay ministries of our churches where possible and appropriate and to encourage mutual understanding at all levels in our churches;
● to establish appropriate forms of consultation on matters of faith and order, mission and service;
● to participate as observers by invitation in each other's forms of governance at every possible level;
● to learn more about the practice of oversight in each other’s churches in order to achieve a fuller sharing of ministries at a later stage of our relationship.


Robert Armagh
Primate of All Ireland

W Winston Graham
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

26 September, 2002
Chrome Hill,

On-line later today:

11.1: Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the Barchester novels.

Next week:

Monday, 29 March 2015:

10 a.m., 11.2: Is there an Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

11.15 a.m., 11.3: Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond


1, Essays;

2, Evaluations;

3, Dissertation proposals.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This is an expanded version of notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh Year II course, TH8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 26 March 2015.

No comments: