I’ve recently received a number of emails from Leaving Cert students in the Irish Republic, researching a question on their forthcoming exam: ‘Profile two examples of how ecumenism is promoted by the members of Christian churches in Ireland today.’
First, I’m heartened that ecumenism – often considered a ‘minority sport’ among Christians in Ireland – is getting some sort of profile among the young through the Leaving Cert.
Back when my School conducted its surveys of religion in Ireland, the overwhelming response to our question – among people of all ages – about how to define ecumenism was bewilderment. Or wry references to the sitcom Father Ted: ‘That would an ecumenical matter!’
Second, it seems clear that my blog must feature when these students Google some combination of ‘ecumenism’ and ‘Ireland.’
I’ve been responding to students individually, but thought that it might be helpful to simply post (in no particular order) some pointers to groups and initiatives they might wish to profile. I add the caveat that because most of my research has been on Northern Ireland, and because I am based in Northern Ireland, my examples are disproportionately Northern.
‘In Joyful Hope’:
An ecumenical initiative among a group of clergy in Belfast, this is designed to give people the opportunity to experience an imperfectly ‘shared’ communion or Eucharist. Click here to access a further series of more detailed blog posts.
Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism Study:
The Irish School of Ecumenics conducted research for this study between 2009-2011, including surveys of clergy and laity which asked specifically about diversity, reconciliation and ecumenism. While publication of all the research material is not yet complete, insights can be gained by reading the reports on the lay and clergy surveys.
The Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, Belfast:
A partnership between Clonard Monastery and Fitzroy Presbyterian in Belfast, this group met regularly during the darkest days of the Troubles to promote understanding and friendship. It has been profiled in several books, including Religion, Civil Society and Peace in Northern Ireland by Brewer, Higgins and Teeney, Hope and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland by Ronald Wells, and Friendship Towards Peace by Ronald Wells.
The Dock Church, Belfast:
The Dock is the only existing ‘church’ in Belfast’s new Titanic Quarter, but it doesn’t claim a denomination or seek a church building. Modelled loosely on ecumenical chaplaincies at universities, the Dock has an inter-denominational staff (led by Church of Ireland Rev Chris Bennett) and has open air prayer walks on Sunday afternoons rather than church services. The Dock currently operates a café but hopes to purchase a boat that it can moor permanently in the area, which will serve as a café and community meeting point.
The 4 Corners Festival, Belfast:
The first 4 Corners Festival was conceived by a group of Christians who wish to promote unity and reconciliation in the midst of Belfast’s troubled past. The first was held during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 2013. Events were designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they would encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends. Events were intended to complement, not replace, already existing events that take place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (Students are advised to search this blog for further posts on 4 Corners events, and to consult the 4 Corners Facebook page.)
Education for Reconciliation programme:
This adult education programme was run by the Irish School of Ecumenics in Northern Ireland and the border counties for 15 years, and was designed to promote understanding and reconciliation among people from diverse religious backgrounds. Click here for a link to further resources about the programme.
Irish Churches Peace Project:
Beginning in 2013, this EU-funded project is designed to help the four ‘main’ churches (Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian) facilitate reconciliation and social justice at the grassroots, as well as to increase the churches’ voice in the public sphere. It is still too early to evaluate the project’s impact, but its development is interesting in and of itself.
Holy Cross Monastery Rostrevor, Co. Down:
This monastery was established in Co. Down around the turn of the century with a specific ecumenical mission and vocation: “The aim of the Community of Holy Cross Monastery is to live the monastic life, according to the charism of our Benedictine Congregation of Saint Mary of Monte Oliveto. Our particular mission is to contribute to reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in a land marked by reciprocal violence and stained by the blood of Christian brothers and sisters.” Further information is detailed in a book by Fr Mark-Emphrem Nolan.
Learning to Think Together:
I have doubtless left out many obvious examples, so invite readers to add their own in the Comments section on this post. I also advise students to browse the ‘ecumenism’ tag on my blog to see if there is anything else that catches their fancy.
I also invite any students who access the resources on this blog to add a Comment, letting me know what they found helpful or even inspiring.